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Hitler's Quest for Oil: the Impact of Economic 
Considerations on Military Strategy, 1941-42 



JOEL HAYWARD 



When asked by his Allied captors in 1945 to what extent German military 
strategy had been influenced at various stages by economic considerations, 
Albert Speer, Hitler's outstanding Armaments Minister, replied that in 
the case of Operation BARBAROSSA the need for oil was certainly a 
prime motive. 1 Indeed, even during the initial discussions of his plan to 
invade the Soviet Union, Hitler stressed the absolute necessity of seizing 
key oilfields, particularly those in the Caucasus region, which accounted 
for around 90 per cent of all oil produced in the Soviet Union. For example , 
during a war conference at the Berghof on 31 July 1940, Hitler revealed to 
high-ranking commanders his intention to shatter Russia 'to its roots with 
one blow' 2 After achieving the 'destruction of Russian manpower', he 
explained, the German Army must drive on towards the Baku oilfield, by 
far the richest of those in the Caucasus and one of the most productive in 
the world. 

Despite Hitler's optimism, the 1941 campaign - which opened along a 
2,000 km front and involved 148 combat divisions - failed to shatter 
Russia 'to its roots with one blow'. Consequently, it failed to bring the 
huge oil region of the Caucasus under German control. After reverses in 
the winter of 1941/42, it was no longer possible for the Wehrmacht to 
undertake wide-ranging offensives along the entire front, by then over 
2,500 km in length. The summer campaign of 1942, although still immense, 
was necessarily less ambitious. It opened along a front of around 725 km, 
and involved 68 German and 25 allied combat divisions. Soviet oil 
remained a major attraction for Hitler. The offensive's objectives were to 
destroy the main Russian forces between the Donets and the Don river, 
capture the crossings into the mountainous Caucasus region and then 
deliver the rich oilfields into German hands. The perceived importance of 
these oilfields to the German economy, and hence the war effort, cannot 
be overstated. On 1 June 1942, four weeks to the day before the summer 
campaign began , Hitler told the assembled senior officers of Army Group 
South that 'If I do not get the oil of Maikop and Grozny then I must end 
this war'. 3 

The purpose of this study is not to provide a narrative description of 
the planning of the 1942 campaign, but, rather, to reveal the central role 

The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol.18, No.4 (December 1995), pp.94-135 
PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS, LONDON 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 95 

which economic considerations played in the planning of that ill-fated 
endeavour. In the following pages I shall appraise Hitler's preoccupation 
with the Caucasus region and its oilfields, and describe how Germany's 
own oil situation in the first two years of the war led him to believe that 
the capture of those oilfields was an essential prerequisite to waging a 
prolonged war of economic attrition. I shall then outline and explain the 
lengthy planning of the 1942 campaign , which aimed first at protecting the 
vulnerable Rumanian oilfields - upon which the German war economy 
was already heavily reliant - and secondly (and more importantly) at 
possessing the far richer fields in the Caucasus. 

I 

The immense Caucasus region, larger than Great Britain, is bounded by 
the Black Sea on the west and the Caspian on the east, and is traversed by 
the Caucasus Mountains. These massive mountains, many of which rise 
to over 5,000 m (including Mount Elbrus, at 5,633 m the highest peak in 
the range), run from the eastern shore of the Sea of Azov, opposite the 
Crimean Kerch Peninsula, 1 ,200 km southeasterly to Baku, the capital of 
present-day Azerbaijan. 

The mountains separate the North Caucasus from Transcaucasia. The 
former, in present-day Russia, comprise mainly steppes, rolling hills and 
desert lands. During the Second World War, it was a producer of grain, 
cotton and heavy farm machinery, and its two main oilfields - Maikop, 
near the Black Sea, and Grozny, near the Caspian - produced about ten 
per cent of all Soviet oil. 4 In 1942, the British Ministry of Economic 
Warfare calculated the annual outputs of these fields to be approximately 
2,500,000 tons each. 5 A pipeline, running from Makhatchkala (320 km 
north of Baku on the Caspian) to Rostov, connected these two fields. This 
pipeline was the normal carrier of Caucasus oil to the eastern Ukrainian 
industrial area, centred around Kharkov. It extended only as far as 
Rostov, from where the oil was taken westward to Kharkov by boat up 
the Donets river system, which was, even according to conservative 
German calculations, suitable for ships and barges of 1 ,000 tons for much 
of the way and of 400 tons the rest. 6 

South of the Caucasus Mountains lies the densely-populated region of 
Transcaucasia, today comprising the nations of Georgia, Azerbaijan and 
Armenia. In 1942, this heavily industrialized region had a population 
density greater than that of the state of New York. 7 Baku, situated on one 
of the world's richest oilfields, alone produced 80 per cent of all Soviet oil. 
It actually consisted of several fields, including the new Nebit-Dagh 'oil 
base' near Krasnovodsk, directly across the Caspian from Baku proper in 



96 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

the present-day nation of Turkmenistan. Crude oil from this source, 
accounting for about seven per cent of Baku's total yield, was shipped 
back to Baku for refining. In 1942, the Ministry of Economic Warfare 
calculated the phenomenal annual output of Baku's 8,000 wells to be 
approximately 24,000,000 tons. 8 A pipeline ran from Baku westward 
through Tiflis, capital of Georgia, to Batum, a major oil export port on 
the Black Sea. Oil going to Moscow, Gorkii and the main industrial 
centres in the west was taken by ship to Astrakhan at the mouth of the 
mighty Volga river, then up the Volga to its destinations. Oil bound for 
the industrial areas of the Urals and Siberia was shipped up the Caspian to 
Gurev, where it travelled by pipeline to Ufa, almost 1,000 km to the 
north. From there it was taken to its destinations by rail. 9 

Hitler's strong desire throughout 1941 and 1942 to capture these oil- 
fields was not without precedent. During the last two years of the First 
World War, Germany experienced critical oil shortages and had to rely 
on Austria-Hungary and, to a far greater degree, Rumania for much of its 
supplies. General Ludendorff, whose words reveal the striking similarity 
between Germany's oil situation in both World Wars, later wrote that 
during the Great War 'Rumanian oil was of decisive importance.' 10 
Unfortunately, he added, 'the production of oil in Rumaina had increased 
to the limits of the possible, but this could not make good the whole 
shortage.' 11 The German High Command therefore needed to obtain a new 
source, and settled on a plan to seize the Baku oilfield, even then recog- 
nized as one of the richest in the world. Before they could achieve this 
goal, however, the British beat them to it in August 1918 by entering Baku, 
which they occupied (except when temporarily ousted by the Turks) until 
well after the end of the war. 12 This lamented Ludendorff, was 'a serious 
blow for us'. 

In order to make sense of Hitler's insistence on the capture of the 
Caucasus oilfields, 25 years after the first German attempt was abandoned, 
it is necessary to outline briefly the origin and significance of the 
Wehrmacht's 'Achilles' heel': its lack of oil. German economic strategists 
realized in the first years of Nazi rule that the nation's heavy dependency 
on imports of crude oil would be a serious problem in the event of war. In 
1934 Germany consumed around three million metric tons of gasoline, 
fuel oil and various other petroleum products. Around 85 per cent came 
from domestic crude production, centred larely in the area around 
Hanover, and from a synthetic oil industry still in its infancey. 13 

Immediately after coming to power the National Socialist government 
took steps towards self-sufficiency in fuels and lubricants by seeking new 
wells and encouraging the expansion of the synthetic fuel industry. State 
subsidies were paid to encourage exploratory drilling within Germany, 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 97 

which resulted in domestic crude oil production increasing from 238,000 
tons in 1933 to 1,052,000 tons in 1940. u The Bergius hydrogenation and 
the Fischer-Tropsch process for the synthetic production of oil had been 
perfected only in the late 1920s, and at the time the National Socialists 
came to power only three small plants were in operation. Despite the high 
cost of producing synthetic fuel, this industry was continuously enlarged 
throughout the 1930s, so that in 1938 the production of fuels, lubricants 
and other oil products from coal reached an annual rate of roughly 
1,600,000 tons, and by September 1939, 2,300,000 tons. 15 

In August 1936, Hitler had addressed a long and rambling memorandum 
to Hermann Goring, who was then Commissioner of Foreign Exchange 
and Raw Materials, on the urgent need for Germany to increase its 
'defensive capacity' against what he called the Soviet Union's 'will of 
aggression'. 16 Germany must be 'capable of waging a worthwhile war 
against the Soviet Union', he stated, because 'a victory over Germany by 
Bolshevism would not lead to a new Versailles Treaty but to the final 
destruction, indeed the extermination, of the German people.' 

Hitler explained to Goring what he saw as the desperate immediacy of 
Germany's economic and military requirements and outlined future steps 
to correct perceived deficiencies. The ultimate solution to Germany's 
problems, insisted Hitler in terms echoing the views he expounded in 
Mein Kampf, 11 'lies in expanding the living space [Lebensraum] of our 
people; that is, in extending the sources of its raw materials and food- 
stuffs.' (in his Weltanschauung, or world view, Lebensraum did not 
primarily mean space for settlement, but land and resources for economic 
exploitation.) The short term goal, he continued to Goring, must be 
an immediate 'economic mobilization' resulting in Germany's quickly 
reaching a 'position of political and economic self-sufficiency'. The 
production of all raw materials essential for modern warfare must be 
increased. German fuel production, he emphasized, must be increased 'at 
the fastest pace' and with great determination because 'the future conduct 
of war will depend on the completion of this task rather than the stock- 
piling of gasoline.' Hitler concluded by setting Goring two clear-cut tasks: 
'(1) the German army must be ready for war within four years, and (2) the 
German economy must be fit for war within four years.' 

Goring responded to the memorandum by having his economic staff 
formulate a detailed Tour- Year Plan' for the Reich's economic develop- 
ment. This was accepted by the Fuhrer, who announced it publicly on 
9 September 1936 at the 'Reich Party Congress of Honour' at Nuremberg, 18 
and on 18 October he formally placed Goring in charge of its implementa- 
tion. The latter instructed his staff to formulate a comprehensive strategy 
for increasing Germany's oil production. This plan provided for an 



98 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

increase in total production from less than two million tons in 1936 to 
4,700,000 tons in 1940. The most important part of this expansion was a 
planned increase in the amount of synthetic fuel produced by the Bergius 
hydrogenation process (the only synthetic fuel process which could 
produce the urgently-needed aviation fuels 19 ) from 620,000 tons in 1936 to 
2,730,000 in 1940. 20 

On 12 July 1938, the Four- Year Plan was superseded by the Karinhall 
Plan (named after Goring's imposing manor house in the Schorfheide), 
which placed far greater emphasis on economic preparations for war. 21 
Realizing that Germany's present consumption of oil had risen to about 
7,500,00 tons - and this was in peacetime - Goring's economic strategists 
resolved to overcome the glaring inadequacy of previous programmes by 
providing for an increase in the annual output of finished oil products to 
11 million tons by the beginning of 1944. 22 These production targets were 
soon revealed to be unrealistic. Consequently, several new oil plans were 
drawn up, beginning in September 1939 with a revision of the Karinhall 
Plan and ending in January 1944 with the Mineralol Plan. 23 

Regardless of its extremely high costs (synthetic oil costs four to five 
times as much as crude to produce), the synthetic oil programme was still 
considered in the immediate pre-war period to be the best solution to 
Germany's oil problems, and hundreds of millions of Reichsmark were 
spent on the construction of production plants. At the outbreak of war in 
September 1939 there were 14 hydrogenation and Fischer-Tropsch plants 
in operation, with a further six under construction. The output of crude 
oil was also continously expanded, and the total yield of oil products from 
domestic sources at the time amounted to three million tons. 24 

Despite these intense efforts to improve Germany's oil situation 
rapidly, in 1938 - the last full year of peace - only about a third of the 
7,500,000 tons of oil Germany consumed was produced domestically by 
synthetic plants and oil refineries. The bulk of the other five million tons 
still came from the United States, Venezuela and Iran. A smaller, but 
nonetheless significant amount (451,000 tons), came from Rumania. 25 
Accordingly, Germany's oil situation received a severe blow in September 
1939 when its overseas imports ceased with the imposition of the Anglo- 
French naval blockade. 26 

The cessation of oil imports was clearly a major cause of concern 
among German economists, although its effects were not immediately 
felt. During the pre-war months of 1939 oil imports from overseas reached 
an all-time peak, so that despite the blockade from September onwards 
imports for the year as a whole amounted to 5,165,000 tons, up 200,000 
tons from the previous year. 27 However, during the following year imports 
dropped dramatically; only 2,075,000 tons managed to enter the Reich in 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 99 

1940, and this was only from other countries on the Continent. Just over 
one million tons came from Rumania, 28 and another 619,600 tons were 
imported from the Soviet Union in accordance with the German-Soviet 
trade agreements of 1939 and 1940. 29 Naturally, imports from the Soviet 
Union ceased immediately when the fury of Operation B ARB AROSSA 
was unleashed on 22 June 1941, although 256,300 tons had already been 
imported in the first half of that year. 30 

Rumania, by far the largest oil producer in Europe (excluding the 
Soviet Union), was the only nation capable of replacing a significant 
portion of the lost overseas imports. In 1938 Rumania exported 451,000 
tons of oil products to Germany. On 23 March 1939 it signed an economic 
treaty with Germany, and on 27 May 1940 the two nations signed an oil 
pact. 31 Accordingly, in 1939 it exported 974,000 tons to the Reich. In 1940 
this rose to 1 ,007,000 tons. 32 In these last two years Rumania continued to 
export oil - around 1 ,500 ,000 tons each year - to non- Axis nations, but as 
it drew closer to the Axis powers after Germany's victories in the west in 
the spring of 1940 these exports dropped off considerably. On 30 August 
1940 Rumania participated in the second of the Vienna Awards. On 
23 November it acceded to the Tripartite Pact, and on 25 November to the 
Anti-Comintern Pact. 33 In 1941 Rumania became Germany's strongest 
economic and military ally when it joined wholeheartedly in the invasion 
of the Soviet Union. In addition to supplying its own troops at the front, it 
exported 2,086,000 tons of oil to the Reich that year, much of it going 
direct to the Wehrmacht in Russia. 

Germany's increasing reliance on Rumanian oil during the first two 
years of the war was a major source of anxiety to Hitler, who frequently 
expressed his concern that the Ploesti oilfields in Rumania lay within 
striking distance of the Soviet Air Force's long-range bombers. 'Now, in 
the era of air power', he told his generals on 20 January 1941, 'Russia can 
turn the Rumanian oilfields into an expanse of smoking debris . . . and the 
very life of the Axis depends on those fields.' 34 We shall see below how 
Hitler's fear of attacks on Rumanian oilfields by Soviet bombers stationed 
on the Crimean Peninsula - a fear shared by several of his top commanders 
-led him to conduct a lengthy campaign in 1942 to 'clear up' the Crimea. 

The destruction of Rumania's oil industry would indeed have dealt a 
catastrophic blow to the German war effort. Oil was by far the most critical 
item in Germany's war economy, and, in 1940, the first full year of war, 
94 per cent of its oil imports came from Rumania. 35 Nonetheless, even 
without the benefit of hindsight it is clear that Hitler's concerns were 
unfounded, as his own military intelligence should have told him at the 
time. During the entire war the Soviet Union had, to quote the airpower 
historian Richard Muller, 'only a rudimentary long-range bombing 



100 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

capability'. 36 The Soviet long-range bomber command had relatively few 
aircraft, and none with precision bombing capabilities until late 1943. It 
certainly could not assemble a force of sufficient strength to deliver 
massed air strikes against the Ploesti installations, which were, in any 
event, protected by formidable anti-aircraft defences. 37 Many raids by 
Soviet twin-engined, medium bombers were attempted throughout the 
war, but, as we shall see, these were weak, ineffectual and cost many 
aircraft. 

A far greater potential threat to the Ploesti refineries and plants was an 
air attack by a large strategic force based in the Mediterranean; but, 
although Hitler was unaware of it, 38 Britain lacked the resources to mount 
such an attack in the years 1939 to 1941. The threat of actual attacks on 
Ploesti from the Mediterranean increased - as did Hitler's fear of them - 
when the United States entered the war. However, although isolated and 
impotent attacks were made by the United States Army Air Forces in the 
middle of 1942, a heavy and continuous offensive against the Rumanian 
oilfields was not begun by the USAAF, assisted by the Royal Air Force, 
until April 1944. 

Another cause of anxiety for Hitler and his military economists was the 
very small size of Germany's accumulated stock of oil. All pre-war 
oil planning called for the accumulation of substantial reserve stocks, 
particularly of aviation fuel for the Luftwaffe and diesel fuels for the 
Kriegsmarine. However, at the outbreak of war the planned level had not 
been reached. Germany had no more than 492,000 tons of aviation fuel in 
reserve, instead of the planned amount of 1 ,500,000 tons. Similarly, it had 
only 1,118,000 tons of diesel and fuel oil instead of the planned figure of 
2,800,000 tons. 39 Indeed, the total accumulated stock at that point was 
only about a quarter of the Reich's, annual consumption in peacetime. The 
oil reserves decreased dramatically during the first few months of war and 
subsequently never rose above 1,500,000 tons, which proved far from 
adequate. 

Germany's rapid conquests of Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries 
and France actually resulted in slight increases - albeit temporary ones - 
in its meagre reserve stocks of oil. During these Blitzkrieg campaigns the 
Wehrmacht consumed relatively little oil, mainly because of the small 
number of protracted battles and a heavy reliance on horse-drawn supply 
columns. According to the writers of one text on oil production and 
consumption, German forces 'managed to win their victories [in 1940] 
using a mere 12 million barrels of oil products, or about the same as the 
United States produced every three days.' 40 Additionally, stocks of oil 
products captured during the short campaigns, especially that against 
France, were larger than the amounts consumed. For instance, 250,000 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 101 

tons of aviation fuel alone (the equivalent of five months' production) 
were captured during the French campaign. 41 

Nonetheless, as Cooke and Nesbit point out, these increases were 
greatly outweighed by a new, long-term liability. Through its conquests', 
they write, 'the Third Reich had made itself responsible for meeting the 
oil needs of a whole group of occupied countries, stretching from Norway 
to the Spanish border, which could no longer obtain supplies from outside 
Europe'. 42 When Mussolini bombastically announced Italy's declaration 
of war on France and Britain on 10 June 1940, Germany's oil situation 
suffered another reverse. Italy had no significant domestic production of 
oil and, with the implementation of the Allied blockade which followed 
its declaration of war, could obtain only negligible amounts from Albania 
(which it had annexed in April 1939). Thus from June 1940 onwards Italy 
was almost totally dependent on Germany for oil and, as a result, became 
a serious drain on the latter's production and stocks. 43 



II 

Unlike the rapid and startlingly successful German campaigns of 1939 and 
1940, Operation B ARB AROSSA, the massive and ultimately unsuccess- 
ful offensive launched on 22 June 1941 to conquer the Soviet Union, 
seriously damaged the Reich's oil reserves. It was simply beyond 
Germany's ability to satisfy the oil requirements of the approximately 
3,600,000 German and allied soldiers (Finns, Italians, Rumanians, 
Hungarians and Slovakians), about 600,000 vehicles, 3,600 tanks, and 
over 2,700 aircraft participating in the offensive. 44 Whereas Germany's 
war economy was capable of sustaining short Blitzkrieg campaigns it could 
not support the drawn-out war of economic attrition which developed 
when the Soviet Union did not collapse, as was widely expected by friends 
and enemies alike, within a few weeks. 

The prolonged campaign in the east quickly began to inflict severe 
economic burdens on the Wehrmacht. The production and supply of 
urgently needed war materials, including oil products, could not keep 
pace with demand. Moreover, during the eastern campaign German units 
were unable to utilize captured fuel, as they had during the campaigns of 
1939 and 1940. This was because the octane content of Soviet petrol was 
too low for German vehicles. It could only be used after the addition of 
benzol in complex installations constructed specifically for that task. 45 

The oil situation of the- eastern armies soon became desperate. For 
example, on 6 September 1941 Hitler issued War Directive 35, which 
outlined Operation TAIFUN, the resumption of the offensive against 
Moscow. 46 Five days later, Generaloberst Franz Haider, the German 



102 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

Army Chief of Staff, recorded in his war diary that the eastern forces 
needed 27 trainloads of fuel per day throughout the rest of September and 
29 per day throughout the entire following month if they were to carry out 
the new offensive successfully. 47 However, wrote Haider, the High 
Command of the Armed Forces (OKW) argued that it could not supply 
this enormous quantity. It could supply only 22 trainloads daily for the 
period of 16 September and, while it could provide the required 27 train- 
loads per day for the last two weeks of that month, it could supply only 
22 per day (less than 75 per cent of those required) for the whole of 
October. For November, when the daily requirements were estimated to 
be 20 trainloads, the OKW believed that only three (or 15 per cent of the 
required level) could be supplied each day. 48 As it turned out, the OKW 
failed to supply even these lower quantities to the eastern forces. 

Although the German Army had yet to lose a single major battle on 
the eastern front, it was already painfully clear to German military 
planners by October 1941 that the Blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union had 
failed. Moreover, it was also clear by this stage that both German and 
Rumanian oil reserves were exhausted, and that current oil production in 
both nations was insufficient to satisfy the requirements of the Wehrmacht 
and industry (as well, of course, as civilian consumption). Rumania's oil 
supplies to the Reich had increased from 150,800 tons in June 1941 to 
361,600 tons in August, but this increase was only possible because 
Rumania reluctantly supplied Germany with a large portion of the oil 
earmarked for its own domestic consumption, which was exhausted by 
late September. 49 Accordingly, deliveries to the Reich decreased after 
that point. They dropped from apeak of 361,600 tons in August to 222,800 
in October. In November they dropped further to 213,000 tons and, in 
December, when these problems were exacerbated by a short-lived 
quarrel between Germany and Rumania over payment , to a mere 104,000. 
In January 1942, they rose slightly to 111,000 tons, but fell sharply in 
February, when only 73,000 tons were delivered to the Reich. 50 Although 
deliveries gradually rose again from this low point, the dramatic drop in 
the last months of 1941 proved almost disastrous for the German war 
effort. 

Even before the eastern campaign started, German economists had 
been predicting these problems and issuing clear warnings to military 
planners. In March 1941, by way of illustration, General der Infanterie 
Georg Thomas, head of the War Economy and Armaments Office, had 
warned both Goring and Keitel in a detailed report that stocks would be 
exhausted by late October. 51 From that time onwards, he argued, it would 
no longer be possible to offset the significant shortage of oil. The only 
possibility of alleviating the desperate shortage in the event of a protracted 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 103 

war was for Germany to exploit Soviet oil production. 'It is crucial', 
Thomas insisted, 

to seize quickly and exploit the Caucasus oilfields, at least the areas 
around Maikop and Grozny. In oilfields that have not been com- 
pletely destroyed, it will take about a month to resume production, 
and another month for its transport; the areas concerned will have 
to have been seized by us by no later than the end of the second 
month of operation: this includes transport facilities (tankers on the 
Black Sea, an operational route from Odessa to Przemysl on a 
Russian gauge so as to take advantage of Russian stocks of tank 
wagons). If this is not successful, we must expect the most serious 
repercussions, with unpredictable consequences for military opera- 
tions after 1.9. [1941] and for the survival of the economy. 52 

Although many members of the German High Command believed in 
July that the Soviet armed forces were close to total collapse - for example, 
on 3 July the normally cautious Haider jubilantly penned in his diary that 
it would probably be no exaggeration to say that the campaign against 
Russia has been won within the first fortnight' 53 - by late August it was 
clear that the eastern campaign was still far from a successful conclusion. 
On 26 August Thomas, whose earlier predictions were now proving 
correct, submitted to the OKW a new report on the oil situation. He 
argued that the small and rapidly diminishing reserve stocks still available 
to Germany would be exhausted in the following months (a correct 
assessment, as noted above) and that current production levels were 
insufficient to satisfy demands. Moreover, he stated, even if production 
were 'pushed to its limits it would be impossible to supply all the required 
oil. Accordingly, our only option is to cut consumption in accordance 
with the availability of supplies.' 54 Cuts were to be made in all areas not 
directly affecting front-line military operations. The home requirements 
of the Wehrmacht, deliveries to Italy and to all other European countries 
dependent on Germany, as well as the civilian economy, were affected by 
this rationing. Accordingly, warned Thomas, these drastic measures would 
result in considerable 'political, military and economic disadvantages'. 55 

Four days after Thomas submitted this report to the OKW, he attended 
a meeting with Generalmajor Eduard Wagner, the Army's Quartermaster 
General, who explained that Army Groups South and Centre on the 
eastern front were experiencing critical fuel shortages, a situation exacer- 
bated by major rail transportation problems. 56 Wagner was of the opinion, 
nonetheless, that oil requirements for the following months could still be 
met if additional reductions were made in the consumption of the civilian 
and non-operational miliary sectors, as well as of the occupied territories. 



104 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

Despite this encouraging opinion, Wagner's conclusion was bleak: by the 
beginning of 1942 oil supplies would be exhausted and 'new oilfields 
would have to be captured.' 57 

In order to satisfy requirements for the campaign in the east, the 
oil quota for the civilian economy had, in fact, already been reduced 
by around ten per cent in May 1941. The supply of fuel for the civilian 
sector is not at all going smoothly', Haider glumly jotted in his diary on 
20 May. 58 Indeed, a month later Walther Funk, the Economics Minister, 
expressed to Jodl, head of the OKW Operations Staff, his deep concern 
that the economy was now receiving 'even less than 18 per cent of peace- 
time consumption' and that the requirements of the economy had been 
'threshed to the limit'. 59 However, despite conveying to Jodl his 'gravest 
misgivings about any further curbs' , Funk was unable to prevent cuts in 
the quota for the civilan sector made during the ensuing period. So 
extensive were these cuts that British Air Ministry observers secretly 
referred to them early in 1942 as 'the severest form of rationing'. 60 

On 7 October 1941, even as Generalfeldmarschall von Bock's Panzer 
spearheads sealed off massed Soviet forces in the Vyazma and Bryansk 
pockets (one of the most devastating double envelopments in military 
history), Thomas submitted another lengthy report on the constantly 
deteriorating oil situation. It was possible, the report stated, to satisfy 
requirements of urgently needed aviation fuel and lubricants until the end 
of the year. Nonetheless, this would leave only 31,000 tons of these 
products to start off the new year, a dangerously low level and a huge drop 
from 1 October, when there had been 181,000 tons. 61 Although there 
were still 289,000 tons of motor and carburettor fuel available, current 
production levels were insufficient to prevent this stock being completely 
exhausted by mid November. Accordingly, by the end of that month 
there would be a shortfall of 32,000 tons , which would increase to as much 
as 97,000 tons by the end of December. These were not the only critical 
fuel shortages. On 1 October there were fewer than 250,000 tons of diesel 
available, and, at current rates of consumption, shortages of this fuel 
would be around 25,000 tons at the end of November, rising to 50,000 
tons at the end of December. Similarly, while the heating oil situation was 
not yet desperate, production levels remained low and stocks were 
rapidly decreasing. It was clearly no longer possible to supply anything 
close to the 100,000 tons of heating oil the Italians emphatically stated 
that they needed each month. Thomas predicted that only 60,000 tons 
could be delivered to Italy in October, and 55,000 tons per month in 
November and December. 62 

To complicate matters, the oil situation of the Kriegsmarine had also 
grown slowly worse through 1941 (matching its fortunes against the 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 105 

Royal Navy). By late October it had become critical. On 13 November, 
Grofiadmiral Erich Raeder provided Hitler with a lengthy situation 
report, which contained a detailed analysis of the Navy's 'very difficult oil 
situation'. 63 The Navy's total stock of diesel oil (106,000 tons) and imports 
from Rumania (45 ,000 tons in November) were still sufficient to satisfy its 
current requirements. However, its total stock of fuel oil had dropped 
considerably to 380,000 tons, of which only about 220,000 tons were 
ready for use without additional treatment . Monthly supplies of fuel oil to 
the Navy were insufficient to satisfy its requirements, and in November 
alone the shortfall for both the German Navy and its Italian counterpart 
(supplied by Germany and Rumania) would come to 116,000 tons. 64 
Despite his grave concerns about his own Navy's terrible oil situation, 
Raeder added stoically that he had complied with Keitel's recent order to 
transfer a further 30,000 tons of fuel oil to the Italian Navy. 

On 12 December, Raeder, who was painfully aware that the Navy's oil 
needs were considered by Hitler and his closest military advisers to be far 
less important than those of the massive armies on the eastern front, 
nonetheless informed the Fiihrer that the Navy's oil situation had now 
become 'very critical'. 65 Its requirements, he pointed out, 'have been cut 
by fifty per cent.' This, he added sharply, was causing *an intolerable 
restriction on the mobility of our vessels.' He was clearly disappointed 
that, despite this distressing situation and the temporary cessation of oil 
deliveries from Rumania, '90,000 tons will have been handed over to the 
Italians' by 1 January 1942. 

Thus it was clear to Hitler and his economic and military planners 
during the closing months of 1941 that the unexpectedly prolonged 
campaign on the eastern front had severely weakened Germany's oil 
situation. Moreover, they were acutely aware that oil shortages were now 
affecting the operational capability of even the troops in the east still 
struggling to deliver the final knockout blow to the Soviet armed forces. 
During a meeting between Wagner and the War Economy and Armaments 
Office on 22 October, for example, it was revealed that the forces on the 
eastern front, still slogging forward with dogged tenacity in clothing 
unable to keep out the bitterly cold wind and rain, were consuming far 
more fuel than previously calculated. 65 This greater consumption was the 
result of worn-out engines, difficult terrain and appalling weather (it was 
already several weeks into the muddy season in central European 
Russia). The army was now able to cover only around 35 to 40 km on the 
amount of fuel considered sufficient for 100 km, which naturally meant 
that far more fuel had to be supplied. It was estimated that no less than 20 
trainloads were needed per day by the troops in the east. However, even 
if this quantity of fuel were available (and it was not), increases in 



106 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

deliveries could not be made because of transportation problems on the 
eastern railways. Dozens of loaded trains were backed up, waiting for 
railway pioneer troops and battalions of the Reich Labour Service and 
Organization Todt to regauge rail lines, sidings and marshalling areas to 
the German width and to organize truck columns connecting rail heads 
with the constantly moving troops. This problem was exacerbated by the 
activities of Russian partisans, who did considerable damage to railways 
used by the Germans. Because the needed increases in fuel deliveries 
could not be attained, troop mobility (particularly in Army Group 
Centre) began to suffer. As it happened, this logistics problem actually 
proved to be a blessing in disguise: when German fuel supplies came close 
to total exhaustion in mid November, this backlog of trains (around 120 
by then) served as an unexpected reserve and was able - to the relief of 
several worried corps commanders - to keep the eastern armies supplied. 
On 3 November, while von Bock's exhausted and frozen Army Group 
Centre was preparing for its final drive on Moscow, Generalfeldmarschall 
Walther von Brauchitsch, the beleaguered and soon-to-be-relieved 
Commander-in-Chief of the Army, paid a visit to the headquarters of 
Army Group South. This mighty force, commanded by the aloof and 
aristocratic Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, occupied much of 
central and eastern Ukraine and most of the Crimea. It was still advancing 
slowly eastward towards strategic objectives considered by Hitler to be 
more important than Moscow (which he had characterized back in July as 
'merely a geographical concept'). 67 To the dismay and frustration of many 
of Hitler's military advisers, 68 these objectives (economic rather than 
military) included Kharkov, the fourth largest industrial centre in the 
Soviet Union; the Donets Basin, famous for its coal and iron industries; 
and the oil-rich Caucasus region. For instance, in his supplement to War 
Directive 34, dated 21 August 1941, Hitler had stated: 

The most important aim to be achieved before the onset of winter is 
not the caputre of Moscow but, rather, the occupation of the 
Crimea, of the industrial and coalmining area of the Donets basin, 
the cutting of the Russian supply routes from the Caucasus oilfields, 
and, in the north, the investment of Leningrad and the establish- 
ment of contact with the Finns. 69 

Attacks on the Rumanian oilfields and refineries were clearly still preying 
on Hitler's mind, because he emphasized in this supplement that 'the 
capture of the Crimean Peninsula is of extreme importance for safe- 
guarding our oil supplies from Rumania'. The very next day he returned 
to this theme in a different document: 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 107 

Apart from the fact that it is important to capture or destroy 
Russia's iron, coal and oil reserves, it is of decisive importance for 
Germany that the Russian air bases on the Black Sea be eliminated, 
above all in the region of Odessa and the Crimea. This measure can 
be said to be absolutely essential for Germany. Under present 
circumstances no one can guarantee that our only important oil- 
producing region is safe from air attack. Such attacks could have 
incalculable results for the future conduct of the war. 70 

Similarly, two days later he explained to Generaloberst Heinz Guderian 
the absolute need to neutralize the Crimea, 'that Soviet aircraft carrier for 
attacking the Rumanian oilfields'. 71 the significance of Hitler's constant 
fear of Soviet air attacks on his main source of oil by Crimean-based 
bombers will become apparent below, when we discuss the reasons for 
the time-consuming 1942 campaign to capture Sevastopol and the Kerch 
Peninsula. 

When Kharkov fell to von Reichenau's Sixth Army on 24 October, 
Hitler was delighted. However, when von Stulpnagel's Seventeenth 
Army (on the Sixth Army's right flank) moved into the Donets Basin, it 
discovered that much of the industrial machinery was gone. Many plants 
had been sabotaged, while hundreds of other industrial enterprises had 
been taken apart by Soviet engineers and technicians - in accordance with 
the instructions of the Soviet Council for Evacuation - to be reconstructed 
at locations in the distant region of the Urals. This outstanding achieve- 
ment, which required (in Nikita Khruschev's words) a 'superhuman effort 
and total co-operation', has received little scholarly attention, yet it must 
rate as one of the Soviet Union's greatest wartime achievements. 72 

Cheated of his anticipated spoils, Hitler insisted that Army Group 
South push on towards his other objectives in southern Russia. During his 
visit to this Army Group on 3 November, von Brauchitsch, although 
unhappy at being Hitler's mouthpiece, informed its stunned command 
staff that the Supreme Command and the High Command of the Army 
(OKH) still wanted the areas around Maikop (the northernmost of the 
Caucasus oilfields) and Stalingrad to be 'captured at all costs this winter'. 
Accordingly, he continued, 'ways and means of attaining these objectives 
would have to be found. In the case of Maikop, oil is naturally the 
incentive; in the case of Stalingrad [it is] the urgent necessity of destroying 
the Russian command's last "major" north-south link.' 73 

Army Group South continued to claw its way eastward. Almost three 
weeks later, on 21 November, units of General der Kavallerie von 
Mackensen's ///. Armeekorps (from von Kleist's First Panzer Army) 
occupied Rostov, at the mouth of the Don river. Despite intense resistance, 



108 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

they even managed to capture intact the main bridge over the Don leading 
to the south, towards the Caucasus. Not knowing that these numerically 
weak units would soon be driven from the city (it was retaken just eight 
days later) and that his Corps would be savagely mauled by the powerful 
Soviet Southern Front, von Mackensen believed he had cut the Russian 
supply routes from the Caucasus and, accordingly, saw his victory at 
Rostov as a major blow against the Soviet war machine. On the day that 
he took the city, he issued this Daily Corps Order: 

Soldiers of the III. Panzerkorps! The battle for Rostow has been 
won! . . . Not icy wind or biting frost, not insufficient winter clothing 
or equipment, nor dark, moonless nights, not tanks, mortars, nor 
thousands of mines or field installations, which took the enemy 
weeks to build and the extent of which we all saw, none of that, and 
least of all the Red Army itself, was able to stop your triumphant 
march. ... We have finally cut off any effective contact to the 
Caucasus for the Russians. Now the task is to hold what we have 
captured so that we may open the gate to new victories. 74 

Hitler, also largely unaware of the coming Soviet counteroffensive, 
was just as optimistic as von Mackensen. The Caucasus oilfields, the 
nearest of which was now tantalizingly close (just 300 km away), were still 
at the forefront of his plans for Army Group South. On the day it took 
Rostov, he gave this already overstretched force, together with the First 
Panzer Army and the Eleventh Army (the latter commanded by von 
Manstein, arguably his most brilliant general), the unachievable task of 
cutting off 'even the British and Soviet links over the Caucasus', beginning 
with the oilfields around Maikop. The Seventeenth Army was given an 
equally unreasonable task: the capture of Stalingrad and its surrounding 
industrial areas, in order to 'cut off the enemy's north-south link on the 
Volga.' 75 

The successes of Army Group South, culminating in the capture of 
Rostov, had not gone unnoticed by Soviet military strategists, who 
recognized the severe threat to their oilfields. 'If Germany succeeds in 
taking Moscow', explained Marshal Timoshenko in a secret speech to the 
Supreme Defence Council in Moscow, 

that is obviously a grave disappointment for us, but it by no means 

disrupts our grand strategy Germany would gain accommodation 

[that is, shelter from the cruel Russian winter], but that alone will 
not win the war. The only thing that matters is oil. As we remember, 
Germany kept harping on her own urgent oil problems in her 
economic bargaining with us from 1939 to 1941 . So we have to do all 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 109 



we can (a) to make Germany increase her oil consumption, and 
(b) to keep the German armies out of the Caucasus. 



76 



The immediate task of the Red Army, he continued, was to throw the 
Germans back j ust far enough to destroy the caches of tanks and ammuni- 
tion they had built up for their intended offensive into the Caucasus. 

The Red Army's offensive in the south, when it finally came, liberated 
Rostov and threatened to inflict enormous damage on the units of Army 
Group South as it drove them back westward. On 29 November, after 
their forces recaptured Rostov, Timoschenko and Khruschev jubilantly 
issued an order to the troops of the Southwest Front. 'The armoured 
bloodsucker von Kleist', they declared with typical Soviet rhetoric (and 
exaggeration), 

attacked in the direction of Rostow and the group under Schwedler 
moved toward Woroschilowgrad in the devious enemy's attempt to 
break the resistance of the units of the Red Army, to capture the 
Don basin and Rostow, and to make his way to the grain stores of 
the northern Caucasus and the oil wells of Grosnij [sic] and Baku. 
. . . [However,] in several days of bloody fighting, the units of the 
Red Army . , . have dealt the enemy mighty blows, destroyed his 
best regiments and divisions, and plunged the remnants of the 
[Panzer] Group von Kleist, the select dogs of the deranged German 
fascists, into incurable misery. 77 

The Soviet recapture of Rostov (the first major defeat suffered by the 
German Army in any war theatre up to that time) shattered Hitler's hopes 
of capturing and exploiting the Caucasus oilfields for the oil-starved 
Reich - or even cutting off the Soviet Union's ability to transport oil from 
the Caucasus to its armies and factories - before the end of 1941. On 
29 November, even as German troops were hastily evacuating Rostov in 
the face of overwhelming Soviet forces, Army Group South reported 
that, while its winter line will 'more or less remain the same' (aside from 
some inevitable local changes), 'the plan to clear out the Donets bend or 
reach Maikop will not now be carried out.' 78 The following day, Von 
Rundstedt informed the Fuhrer that, because of heavy losses of men and 
equipment, the vastly superior strength of the enemy's forces and the 
appalling weather, Army Group South was forced to suspend all 'opera- 
tional movements'. It was, he wrote, going over to the defence 'on a 
tactically-acceptable line' (that is, a withdrawal to the line of Taganrog- 
Mius River-Bachmut). Hitler was (in Haider's words) 'in a state of 
extreme agitation over the situation' , and angrily forbade this withdrawal. 79 
Von Rundstedt, whose greatest concern was the safety of his already- 



110 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

suffering troops, replied via von Brauchitsch that he could not comply 
with Hitler's order and asked that either the order be changed or he be 
relieved of his post. Hitler saw this as a direct challenge to his authority 
and, on 1 December, stripped von Rundstedt of the command of the 
Army Group and replaced him with Generalfeldmarschall von Reichenau 
(formerly in command of the Sixth Army). 80 As it turned out, von 
Reichenau also realized the hopelessness of the situation and pleaded 
with Hitler to withdraw his men to the line of the Mius river. This time the 
Fiihrer relented, and the hard-pressed forces around Rostov moved back 
to more defensible positions. Haider's diary entry for that day reveals his 
loathing of Hitler's erratic behaviour: 'Now we are where we could have 
been last night. It was a senseless waste of strength and time, and, on top 
of that, we also lost von Rundstedt.' 81 

This withdrawal to the Mius was a bitter pill for Hitler to swallow, who 
now realized that the oilfields of the Caucasus had slipped from his grasp, 
at least until the following year. He had actually feared this outcome for 
some time, despite his renewed optimism in the period immediately 
following the German capture of Rostov. On 7 November, when he still 
believed B ARB AROSSA could (and craved that it would) be brought to 
a successful conclusion in 1941, he complained to the rapidly failing von 
Brauchitsch (who suffered a serious heart attack the following day) that 
the seizure of the oilfields would have to be delayed until the following 
year. 82 Similarly, on 19 November he informed his most senior advisers 
that the first objective for 1942 would be the Caucasus oilfields, and that 
the campaign launched for this purpose in March or April would aim to 
take German forces right to the *Russian southern frontier' (that is, the 
Soviet-Iranian border). 83 

In the first week of December, the defeat at Rostov paled into insigni- 
ficance against events unfolding along the entire eastern front. In the far 
north, the vanguard of von Leeb's Army Group North was on the verge of 
encirclement at Tikhvin, east of Leningrad, forcing an angry Hitler to 
permit the retreat of these endangered forces towards 'Lenin's city'. 
Things were even worse in the region of Army Group Centre. In the 
middle of November, the first solid frosts had permitted a renewal of the 
offensive against Moscow, and by the end of the month the fall of the city 
appeared certain. However, the exhausted Germans were halted within 
sight of the Kremlin's glittering towers by a devastating combination of, 
on the one hand, diminishing troop strengths, major supply difficulties, 
savage frosts (of around -35°C) and paralysing blizzards ; on the other, the 
courage and tenacity of warmly-clothed and steadily-reinforced Soviet 
troops desperately fighting side by side with terrified Muscovites to save 
their capital. 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 111 

On 6 December, the Soviets launched their massive counteroffensive 
(over 100 Soviet divisions were thrown into battle in the area of Army 
Group Centre alone), which lasted until the middle of April 1942 when it 
petered out and the Germans were themselves able to prepare a renewed 
offensive. Hitler, stunned by events in the east but trying to maintain a 
confident air in front of his generals, discussed with Haider the need of 
rehabilitation for the troops and argued that, while this was indeed 
necessary, he still had objectives to be attained during the winter. The oil 
of the Caucasus continued to feature prominently in his far-fetched plans; 
as well as eliminating the Ladoga Front near Leningrad and linking up 
with the Finns, he said the Donets bend in the south had to be secured, 'as 
a jump-off base for Maikop'. The following day, 7 December, Hitler was 
sitll talking inanely about renewing the drive to the south. 'We must take 
the Maikop oil region', he stated. 'Rostov should not be written off for 
this winter. . . . With decent weather we can launch counterattacks.' 84 

On 8 December, Hitler, apparently resigned at last to the failure of his 
Blitz campaign in the east, issued War Directive 39 to the three services. 85 
In this he acknowledged that the merciless winter, and the consequent 
difficulties in bringing up supplies, compelled his forces 'to abandon 
immediately all major offensive operations and to go over to the defen- 
sive.' Although it outlined steps to be taken towards the rehabilitation of 
troops, even a cursory reading reveals that Hitler did not intend there to 
be any major withdrawals in the east. Indeed , only two days earlier he had 
remarked that 'the Russians have not voluntarily abandoned any ground; 
we cannot do it either. In principle, there can be no reduction in the 
line.' 86 War Directive 39 firmly stated that there could be no withdrawals 
unless rear areas had been prepared which offered troops 'better living 
conditions and defence possiblities'. Given the difficulty of preparing 
such rear areas in the snow-covered Soviet wastelands, where the earth 
was frozen solid, very few of the tortured units at the front were able to 
move back. 

Hitler was furious with commanders who appeared to disobey his 
order. On 15 December, for example, after hearing that von Bock was 
issuing orders to evacuate positions along Army Group Centre's hard- 
pressed front, he sent an angry message to the Field Marshal's headquarters, 
requiring him 'to issue the following instructions to the organizations in 
his command: "Stand and fight! Not another yard backward!'" 87 His 
anger at senior commanders culminated in his so-called Haltebefehl (or 
'stand-fast order') of 16 December, in which he ordered the 'front to be 
defended down to the last man'. 88 He even sacked those commanders - 
including Guderian, his ablest Panzer commander- who ignored repeated 
demands to stand fast. 89 As it turned out, however, many of Hitler's 



1 12 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

senior commanders, including Generalfeldmarschall Keitel, were later to 
admit that his rigid Haltebefehl- which they considered insane at the time 
- was the right decision. 90 

War Directive 39 also sheds considerable light on the topic at hand: 
Hitler's pursuit of Soviet oil. It reveals that, even despite the- dreadful 
battering his worn-out forces were receiving in the east, he still held fast to 
his goal of taking the Caucasus oilfields during 1942. In order to free the 
bulk of von Manstein's Eleventh Army for future missions, Sevastopol, 
the Soviet Union's main naval base and shipyard on the Black Sea, was to 
be captured as soon as possible. Then, 'in spite of all difficulties', Army 
Group South 

must endeavour to establish conditions which, in favourable weather, 
even during this winter, would make it possible to attack and capture 
the Lower Don-Donets line. This would provide favourable con- 
ditions for operations against the Caucasus in the spring. 

The same day that Hitler issued this directive, the Operations Division 
of the OKH issued its own instructions to the troops in the east, which 
comprised guidelines for 'securing the occupied territories in the most 
advantageous, economical defence front' and rehabilitating the army 
over the winter months. 91 These detailed instructions - entitled 'Directives 
for the Tasks of the Eastern Army in the Winter of 1941/42' - were 
intended to clarify the nature and purpose of the operations outlined in 
Hitler's often-vague directive, and to describe how front-line commanders 
should go about implementing Hitler's instructions. As such, they do not 
deviate from Hitler's strategy; rather, they support his unpopular views 
on the situation in the east and direct the three army groups to undertake 
missions in accordance with his strategic ambitions. Army Group North 
was to continue its current operation south of Lake Ladoga, link up with 
the Finns and thus deprive Leningrad of its supply routes. Army Group 
Centre was to discontinue all offensive operations (which it had already 
done) and establish a defensive front against Soviet counteroffensives. 
Mobile divisions were to be rehabilitated behind the left flank of Army 
Group South in order to prepare them for possible intervention in the 
event of a Soviet offensive from the Voronezh area. Army Group South, 
as well as preventing a Soviet breakthrough between the Donets and the 
Sea of Azov, was to hold Kharkov and, in co-operation with units of 
Army Group Centre, secure the important Belgorod-Kursk railway. 
Moreover, the Crimea would have to be made secure, even after the 
capture of Sevastopol by Manstein. Most importantly (for the purposes of 
this study), Army Group South was to retake Rostov and the Donets 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 113 

Basin to the north-east, in preparation for a future drive down into the 
Caucasus to capture the Maikop oilfields. 



Ill 

It became clear towards the end of the 1941/42 winter that Soviet counter- 
offensives, despite the terrible destruction they inflicted, were not going 
to dislodge the bulk of the strained and exhausted German forces still 
stretched out along an enormous front running from Leningrad to the Sea 
of Azov. Accordingly, military planners and intelligence officers on both 
sides began making preparations for the coming spring and summer. 

Even at his bleakest moments late in that harsh winter, Hitler's 
thoughts were with the coming spring offensive. On 3 January 1942, while 
the Soviets continued to penetrate German lines along the entire eastern 
front, he confided his plans to Oshima Hiroshi, the Japanese ambassador 
to Berlin. For the time being, he told Oshima, he would not conduct 
another offensive in the centre of the front, but was instead 'determined 
to take up again the offensive in the direction of the Caucasus as soon as 
the weather is favourable.' 92 It was absolutely vital to get first to the 
Caucasus oilfields and then to those in Iran and Iraq. Not only would this 
greatly improve Germany's oil situation and damage the Soviet Union's, 
but it would cause the collapse of the Allied position in the Middle East 
and possibly unleash a freedom movement within the Arab world. 
Naturally, he added, he would also do everything possible to destroy 
Moscow and Leningrad. Two weeks later, on 18 January, Hitler disclosed 
these intentions to von Bock before the latter flew to distant Poltava to 
take command of Army Group South, following the untimely death of 
von Reichenau. Von Bock, whose rebuilt Army Group would carry out 
the coming offensive, was given two missions: 'to hold for the present and 
attack in the spring.' 93 

Despite such optimistic-sounding statements about another campaign 
in the east, throughout December 1941 and the first four or five weeks of 
1942 Hitler was racked with doubts as to whether his eastern armies could 
still be saved. Although months later he admitted to close friends and 
confidants that during the height of the winter crisis he sometimes 
doubted that he could stave off a catastrophe, 94 he was careful to keep 
these doubts hidden from his generals and, of course, the German public. 
In a rousing speech he delivered in the Berliner Sportpalast on 30 January 
1942, the ninth anniversary of his election to power, he spoke of his 
'unbounded confidence, confidence in my own person, so that nothing, 
whatever it may be, can throw me out of the saddle, so that nothing can 
shake me.' 95 This speech, an inspired Goebbels penned in his diary, was as 



1 14 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

successful as those of the early 1930s. It 'charged the whole nation as if it 
were a storage battery. ... As long as he lives and is among us in good 
health, as long as he can give us the strength of his spirit, no evil can 
touch us.' 96 

By the middle of February, even though Soviet offensives continued to 
inflict heavy damage on German forces, Hitler had shaken off the 
depression that gripped him in December and January and was regaining 
his confidence. 97 He was encouraged by the success of Rommel's brilliant 
counterattack at El Agheila in Libya on 21 January, which caught the 
British Eighth Army off guard and within ten days forced it to abandon all 
its recent gains in the Benghazi bulge. On 12 February, he was thrilled by 
the escape of the Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen, which dashed 
from Brest through the English Channel in broad daylight to safer waters 
in Norway. He could take personal pride in the success of this daring 
operation; the idea of these capital ships dashing through the Channel 
under the nose of the British had been his own. He was also heartened on 
15 February by the news that the United Kingdom had suffered the worst 
military defeat in its history: the fall of Singapore to the Japanese army. 
During that same period the Japanese inflicted similar humiliations on the 
Americans in the Philippines. 

German fortunes on the eastern front also began to look promising. 
Repeatedly situations that appeared extremely perilous were, by means 
of superior tactics and incredible endurance, stabilized and brought 
under control. Some were even transformed into minor successes. Hitler 
was especially pleased with the eventual success of Army Group Centre's 
attempts to close the gaps in its line and form a new front. Although he 
knew that German and Soviet forces would remain locked in bloody 
battle for some time yet, and in places his men were only barely holding 
on, he felt that the worst was over and that he had accomplished his first 
objective; he had arrested the widespread panic among his generals and 
prevented a rout similar to Napoleon's in 1812. Moreover, he regarded 
his armies' successful resistance to the Soviet winter offensive as further 
proof that his *stand-fast' order was the right decision and that the 
generals he dismissed were incompetent, cowardly and defeatist. His iron 
will had mastered the winter crisis, he believed. Now it would drive the 
summer offensive. 

The plan for a major offensive into the Caucasus to seize the oilfields 
was, to a much greater extent than the previous year's attack on the Soviet 
capital, Hitler's own strategic conception. Keitel, who thought the plan 
had considerable merit, wrote in his memoirs that the Fuhrer 'conceived 
the idea entirely alone'. 98 During the height of the winter crisis Hitler had 
unfairly but repeatedly cursed the General Staff for having imposed its 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 115 

Moscow campaign on him. Now that he had pulled Germany back from 
the brink of disaster he was determined to trust his instincts and order a 
campaign to attain his own strategic objectives (which were clearly 
shaped by his awareness of the Reich's economic problems). Moreover, 
he would no longer limit himself to issuing general instructions, but 
would, in his new capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Army (since 
von Brauchitsch's resignation on 19 December), take complete and 
immediate charge of the direction of operations." 

Operation BARBAROSSA had been conceived in basic accordance 
with Clausewitz's fundamental rule of warfare that the proper objective 
of a campaign is the defeat of the enemy's military forces in the field and 
that the seizure of economic and political objectives must follow, not 
precede, this. However, Hitler's decision in the winter of 1941/42 to seize 
the Caucasus oilfields, rather than force a decisive battle on the Soviet 
armed forces, violated Clausewitz's rule. He was certainly not unaware of 
Clausewitz's dictum. Indeed, he was well versed in military theory and 
has studied most key works in this field, including Clausewitz's master- 
piece, Vom Kriege. On occasions he would pompously point this out to 
generals who challenged him on matters of strategy. 'There's no need for 
you to try to teach me', he lectured Guderian (whose own book on 
armoured warfare had greatly impressed him) during one particular 
disagreement. 'I've studied Clausewitz and Moltke and read all the 
Schlieffen papers. I'm more in the picture than you are!' 100 His decision to 
avoid a confrontation with the bulk of the Soviet forces and aim instead at 
the conquest of the Caucasus in order to exploit its economic resources 
was based, not on ignorance of the basic tenets of military theory, but on 
deep concern over his struggling economy and the perceived lack of 
feasible alternative strategies. 

Frightful losses in the winter of 1941/42 meant that the Wehrmachtwas 
no longer able to undertake wide-ranging offensives along the entire 
eastern front. By 31 January 1942 the armies in the east had suffered 
917,985 casualties, including 28,935 officers, and the eastern Luftwaffe 
fleets had suffered 18,089. 101 Although large numbers of replacements 
were sent in the following months, they were nowhere near enough to 
offset the losses inflicted during the height of the winter crisis, let alone 
rebuild adequate reserves. The loss of materiel was also a source of grave 
concern: 424 tanks were knocked out in the first three weeks of December 
alone, a rate of destruction that continued well into January. Various 
endeavours were undertaken to replace these tanks, but their effects were 
not immediately felt. On 30 March, the OKH reported that the 16 Panzer 
divisions deployed in the Soviet Union were left with only 140 operational 
tanks between them, which was fewer than the usual complement of 



1 16 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

a single division. 102 Moreover, the mobility of the eastern armies was 
restricted by huge losses of horses and motor vehicles. By the end of 
January, 101,529 vehicles had been destroyed, including 42,851 motor- 
cycles, 28,942 cars and 41,135 lorries. Again, despite increases in 
production, these losses simply could not be offset. Indeed, once the 
objectives of the summer campaign were agreed during early spring, the 
units of Army Groups North and Centre were deprived of most of their 
motor vehicles in order to ensure that Army Group South, which was to 
carry out the offensive , regained at least 85 per cent of its former mobility . 
The removal of so many motor vehicles naturally led to a significant 
reduction in the combat effectiveness of Army Groups North and Centre, 
a situation exacerbated by the shortage of horses and fodder. Supply 
stocks were almost exhausted, and transportation difficulties held up the 
delivery of weapons and equipment already loaded on trains. 

As a result of these problems and his realization that the German 
economy now had to cope with a prolonged war of economic attrition, 
Hitler issued an order on 10 January 1942 for the reorganization of the 
armaments industry. 103 The long-term objective was still 'the build-up of 
the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine for the purpose of fighting the Anglo- 
Saxon powers', but the 'strategic demands of 1942 make it impossible, for 
the time being, to attain this objective through a reduction of armaments 
destined for the Army.' On the contrary, the Army would have to be 
given a disproportionately large share of manpower and armaments so 
that it could accomplish 'the strategic tasks of 1942'. In order to satisfy the 
'increased needs of the Army', the order continues, it might be necessary 
at times to make cuts in the allocations of armaments to the Air Force and 
the Navy. The former was to continue its current programmes, except for 
'a temporary curtailment of its ammunition and bomb production in all 
classifications where a sufficient supply exists'. Similarly, the latter was 
simply to concentrate on the construction and maintenance of U-boats, 
and, 'because of the supplies on hand', there was to be a curtailment of 
the supply of ammunition in favour of the Army. The Army itself was to 
be made ready for offensive commitments by 1 May 1942. As well as 
assuring that the Army would have supplies sufficient 'for about four 
months' continuous operations', it was necessary to build up a 'backlog of 
ammunition (excluding the original allotment) amounting to six times the 
average monthly consumption of the eastern campaign ... for the main 
weapons.' 

Despite the long-term benefits of this reorganization of the armaments 
industry, which gave the highest priority to the acquisition of coal and oil, 
it could not, of course, immediately change the condition of the German 
Army. At the end of March 1942, only eight of the 162 divisions deployed 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 117 

on the eastern front were fully operational for the coming offensive. 
Three more could be brought up to full offensive capability after a short 
rehabilitation period, and 47 could perform limited offensive tasks. The 
other 104 divisions could be deployed only for defensive duties. 104 Accord- 
ingly, in the late winter and spring of 1942, it was clear to Hitler and his 
military planners that it was simply no longer possible to conduct a wide- 
ranging offensive in the east which would force a decisive battle on the 
Soviet armed forces. Therefore if an eastern offensive were to be conduc- 
ted at all in 1942, and there exists no evidence that the German High 
Command ever seriously considered the eastern forces' adopting an 
essentially defensive posture, the one choice left to be made was in which 
sector to strike. Only Hitler's proposed drive to the Caucasus offered a 
solution to the glaring problems of the war economy, which were growing 
worse with every passing month. If the oilfields could be captured, their 
output would certainly relieve the terrible shortage of oil products 
currently experienced by both Germany and Italy, and also allow their 
armed forces to continued the prolonged struggle against the growing list 
of nations now at war against them. 

Germany's need for oil was certainly great. In 1941, its total supply 
had amounted to 8,929,000 tons, which, although up a little from 
8,200,000 tons in 1939, was nowhere near enough to meet the needs of 
both the civilian economy and the armed forces. Indeed, for the protracted 
eastern campaign it had been necessary to withdraw over a million tons 
from the nation's meagre reserves, leaving them exhausted by the end of 
the year. 105 At the beginning of 1942, stocks for all civilian and military 
purposes were down to a dangerously low level of 797,000 tons (excluding 
marine diesel) , which was around half the reserve amount of the previous 
year and barely enough for one month's consumption. 106 

By early 1942 existing sources were clearly unable to provide Germany 
with enough oil to resume offensive operations against the Soviet Union 
on the scale of the 1941 campaign, let alone to wage war on the western 
powers on a scale sufficient to bring about their defeat. Since the outbreak 
of war, only slight gains had been made in the domestic extraction of crude 
oil, which never accounted for over 20 per cent of the Reich's total supply. 
Synthetic production, on the other hand, had risen to 4,116,000 tons in 
1941 (up from 2,220,000 in 1939) and would continue to rise steadily for 
another two years, until the synthetic fuel plants began to be targeted by 
Allied bombers. 107 However, these gains in synthetic production were 
offset slightly by the declining output of the Rumanian oilfields. For 
various reasons, including the gradually decreasing productivity of the 
wells, their yield had dropped from 8,701 ,000 tons in 1937 to 5,577,000 in 
1941. m Much of this amount was needed by Rumania itself, whose own 



118 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

economy was straining to cope with the demands of war. Also, as noted 
above, Rumanian deliveries to Germany had dropped off sharply in the 
last months of 1941, mainly as a result of depleted reserves and a quarrel 
with Germany over payment. At the beginning of December 1941, 
Marshal Antonescu had personally warned Hitler by telegram that, while 
he would do everything he could to increase deliveries, 'in the last five 
months we exported to Germany and Italy amounts greater than the 
monthly output of 125,000 tons fuel oil, which exhausted our available 
reserves'. m Despite repeated assurances by Rumanian leaders that 
their nation 'would do everything possible to increase her deliveries to 
Germany', 110 it appeared unlikely in the first months of 1942 that supplies 
of Rumanian oil would ever return to the levels of mid 1941. Indeed, on 
12 February Antonescu informed von Ribbentrop that 'as for crude oil, 
Rumania has contributed the maximum which it is in her power to contri- 
bute. She can give no more.' Alluding to the much discussed drive on the 
Caucasus, Antonescu added that 'the only way out of the situation would 
be to seize territories rich in oil.' 111 

This was certainly a compelling argument to use with the Navy. As 
noted above, Raeder was complaining as early as October 1941 to Hitler 
about the Navy's oil situation and had warned him on 12 December that it 
was now 'very critical'. By early 1942, the situation had deteriorated con- 
siderably, so that the Navy was, in the words of one writer, living 'hand to 
mouth'. m For example, the naval base in Piraeus had a stock of almost 
11,000,000 litres of heating oil at the beginning of August 1941, but it had 
all gone by the end of the year. 113 The dash of the Brest group through the 
English Channel and on to Norway had consumed 20,000 tons of fuel oil 
alone, and by 1 April the Navy's oil reserves had dropped to 150,000 
tons. 114 Fortunately for Raeder, the shortage of fuel did not greatly 
hamper the operations of Donitz's U-boats - which were still coming far 
nearer than any other Axis force to strangling the Allied war effort - 
because they operated on diesel oil and that was still in adequate supply. 

The oil shortage virtially immobilized not only the German surface 
fleet, but also that of the Italians. In December 1941 the Italian Navy had 
received 29,600 tons of fuel oil, instead of the 40,000 promised, and only 
13,500 in January 1942. 'There is only one dark spot - the lack of oil', 
Ciano jotted in his diary on 8 February 1942. Just now we have barely a 
hundred thousand tons, and only a negligible quantity gets through to us 
from abroad. This immobilizes the Navy, particularly the large ships, 
which otherwise would enjoy total supremacy in the Mediterranean'. 115 
Part of the problem, he had claimed a month earlier, was that the Germans 
were (in Mussolini's words) 'highway robbers', taking for themselves 'the 
oil which was meant for us.' 116 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 119 

The Luftwaffe was not quite as hard hit by the crisis as the other 
services, although in 1941 it had been forced to draw upon its reserves for 
more than 25 per cent of its consumption. As a result, the Luftwaffe's 
reserves of aviation fuel at the end of 1941 amounted to only 254,000 tons, 
which was a huge drop from the reserves of 613,000 tons at the end of the 
previous year. 117 During the winter of 1941/42, when it became apparent 
that the Blitzkrieg had failed and that a prolonged war of attrition 
was inevitable, worried Luftwaffe planners (including Goring himself) 
urgently insisted that far larger amounts of aviation fuel would be needed. 
Accordingly, attempts were made to expand the output of existing syn- 
thetic fuel facilities - still the principal source of aviation fuel - and begin 
the construction of additional plants. 118 Despite these efforts, increases in 
synthetic fuel production could not be achieved overnight, and by the 
spring of 1942 the shortage of refined aviation fuel was significantly restrict- 
ing the Luftwaffe's training programme and preventing the renewal of an 
air offensive on anywhere near the scale of the Battle of Britain. 

The Luftwaffe's oil situation did not go unnoticed by Allied intelligence 
agencies. The British Air Ministry, by way of illustration, stated in a 
February 1942 intelligence report that, while there was little chance at 
present of the Luftwaffe 'being grounded for want of fuel and oil', there 
was every reason to believe that shortages of fuel would become 'more 
and more acute.' 119 Furthermore, despite German efforts to reduce oil 
consumption in order 'to stave off disaster . . . without the Caucasus oil 
fields all this must be in vain so long as the Russian armies remain in 
being.' This was not the only mention of German's urgent need to seize 
the Caucasus oilfields. The report also stated that: 

the Russian campaign, which so greatly exceeded in scale any 
previous mechanized battles, has run down even the considerable 
stocks which Germany had last June to a level which is uncomfort- 
. ably low, and the 'oil export' can at last lay his hand on his heart and 
say the Germans are likely to run out of oil before very long - unless 
they get the Caucasus without delay. 

Considering the potentially disastrous impact of these shortages on 
Germany's continued war effort, Hitler's plan to seize the Caucasus oil- 
fields made perfect sense. These accounted for 'about 90% of oil produced 
in the Soviet Union'. 120 In the light of the fact that the Soviet Union had 
extracted a staggering 34,200,000 tons of crude oil in 1940 121 (more than 
the combined totals of Iran, Iraq, Rumania, Mexico and Indonesia 122 ), it 
is clear that these oilfields had an immense output. Their total yield was 
no secret to the oil-hungry Hitler, who, in his ominiscient manner, told his 



120 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

dinner guests one evening that: 'statistics show that the Russians until 
quite recently obtained 92 per cent of their oil from the Caucasus.' 123 

Early in 1942, Hitler argued persuasively that the seizure of these 
extremely rich oilfields would relieve Germany's critical shortages and 
enable it , if necessary, to continue fighting in a drawn-out war of attrition. 
The seizure of these geographically distant oilfields, although still within 
reach of British bombers based in Iraq (which were not, in any event, 
a danger in 1942), would also greatly offset the constant danger of Allied 
air attacks against the Ploesti plants in Rumania and its own synthetic 
fuel plants within the Reich itself. More importantly, Hitler declared, 
the severance of the various north-south railways between the oil 
and industrial regions and Moscow, the capture of the oilfields themselves 
and the blocking of the vital Volga river system (which carried not only 
oil but armaments and lend-lease supplies from Archangel) would be 
a massive, and probably mortal blow to the Soviet economy and war 
effort. 124 

The surviving documentation reveals that few OKW and OKH officers 
openly expressed doubts about the proposed campaign to seize the 
Caucasus oilfield, and that none actually challenged Hitler on the feasi- 
bility of the plan. It may be, of course, that after the dismissal of von 
Brauchitsch and von Rundstedt, none were brave enough to risk the 
Fuhrer's wrath. It appears more likely, however, that Hitler's military 
advisers were in general agreement that, within the limited range of 
options available, his plan contained the most merit. Even Haider, who 
personally thought (but never made a strong case to the High Command 125 ) 
that the eastern armies should maintain an essentially defensive posture 
for the time being, was apparently won over to the general plan. In 
response to the Navy's 'Suez Memorandum' of 3 April, which advocated 
the urgent capture of the Suez Canal by Rommel's forces, Haider 
emphatically stated to the OKH Naval Liaison Officer, Kapitdn zur 
See Konrad Weygold, that the conquest of the Caucasus was 'absolutely 
vital' for Germany's continued war effort. 126 If the oilfield were not 
captured, 'the Reich will not survive long'. The Caucasus, he explained 
'has more or less the same importance as Silesia once had for Prussia.' 
Having doubtless carefully studied the detailed briefings of the War 
Economy and Armaments Office, he knew that Germany's oil situation 
was critical. On 16 February, by way of illustration, this office had grimly 
warned, in its conclusion to a 16-page report on Germany's fuel situation 
that: 

One thing is now clear: without Russian oil we simply cannot utilize 
fully the regions of Russia we now occupy. But above all, without 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 121 

Russian oil the German war machine must from now on become 
increasingly more impotent. 127 

Indeed, as the year progressed it became increasingly evident to senior 
German planners that Hitler's emphasis on the capture of oil resources 
was well-founded. For example, on 6 June (three weeks before the start 
of the campaign), the OKW glumly reported that oil supplies throughout 
the rest of 1942 would be 'one of the weakest points in our defensive capa- 
bilities'. The significance of this comment is obvious; defensive actions 
require far less oil than offensive ones, so the situation must certainly 
have looked black. Because oil shortages were so critical, the report con- 
tinued, 'the operational freedom of all three services will be restricted, 
and the armaments industry will also suffer. Reserves have been reduced 
almost to nothing, so we are now forced to rely on production.' 128 

It appears that during this period there was little discussion between 
Hitler and his military advisers over the important question of how 
Caucasus oil was to be transported to the Reich. A quarter of a century 
earlier, this problem had also vexed Ludendorff and the German High 
Command, who never arrived at an adequate solution. 129 The overworked 
Ftirher may not even have realized the importance of this matter, consider- 
ing it best simply to cross that bridge when he came to it. He had almost 
certainly not read the March 1941 report by Generalleutnant Hermann 
von Hanneken of the War Economy and War Armaments Office, which 
was appended to a letter sent by Keitel to the OKH. This report warned 
that, even if the Caucasus oilfields could be captured intact, very little oil 
(only 10,000 tons per month) could be carried overland to Germany. 130 
Moreover, even if the Black Sea could be made safe for shipping, there 
would be no ships available for the transport of Caucasus oil up the 
Danube because its river tankers were already working to capacity 
transporting Rumanian oil. 131 The only remaining route was across the 
Black Sea, through the Dardenelles, and on to Mediterranean ports. 
Accordingly, the report concluded, 'the opening of the sea routes and the 
security of the tankers in the Black Sea is the prerequisite for the use of 
Russian supply sources in sufficient quantity to support the further 
continuation of the war.' Clearly, to attain this prerequisite was virtually 
impossible by early 1942; the Germans would have had to wipe out the 
powerful Soviet Black Sea Fleet (which still had, according to Raeder, 
'naval supremacy . . . [allowing] great freedom of movement' 132 ) and 
eliminate British air and sea power from the eastern Mediterranean. 

Despite not considering how best to solve this logistics nightmare - 
which never occurred, because the German Army captured only the 
already-destroyed Maikop oilfield - Hitler was well aware of the need to 



122 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

make the Black Sea safe for German shipping. However, both he and 
Raeder appear to have worried more about supplying German armies via 
the Black Sea than of shipping Caucasus oil back to the Reich or 
Rumanian refineries. 133 

When planning the forthcoming campaign, both Hitler and the 
German High Command placed considerable emphasis on the need to 
advance on the Caucasus oilfields so rapidly that the Soviets would not 
have time to destroy the oil wells and refineries permanently. If the latter 
were destroyed, the bulk of the oil would have to be refined elsewhere 
until new refineries could be constructed. Only Rumanian refineries, 
which still had a considerable surplus refinement capacity, 134 could handle 
large quantities of additional crude, but (for the reasons mentioned 
above) it would be extremely difficult to ship significant amounts of oil 
from the Caucasus to Rumania. 

An 'Oil Detachment Caucaus' had been formed a year earlier, in the 
spring of 1941 , when the capture of the oilfields was still a principal objec- 
tive of the forthcoming attack on the Soviet Union. Its purpose was to 
repair damaged wells and refineries quickly so that exploitation of the 
oilfields could be commenced as soon as possible. In early 1942, when the 
capture of the oilfield became the objective of the forthcoming attack, this 
detachment was expanded considerably and renamed the 'Oil Brigade 
Caucasus'. The expansion was necessary because recent experiences in 
Ukraine and the Donets Basin indicated that the Caucaus oilfields would 
probably not be captured before at least some attempts were made to 
destroy existing wells and refineries. As a result, this unusual paramilitary 
force was brought to a strength of 10,794, issued with 1,142 vehicles and 
six aircraft and ordered to stand by, ready to move into the Caucaus 
oilfield immediately behind the combat troops. 135 

IV 

On 28 March, after a lengthy period of discussion, the OKH presented 
Hitler with a plan for the Caucasus offensive - to be code-named Fall 
Blau, or Case BLUE - which closely paralleled his wishes. 136 Hitler gave 
his endorsement to the basic concepts of the plan, and turned it over to 
the OKW operations staff to write an implementing directive. After he 
'drastically amended' the draft Jodl submitted to him, 137 War Directive 41 
was finally issued on 5 April. 

'The winter battle in Russia', Hitler proudly stated in the preamble, 'is 
approaching its end. Through the unequalled courage and self-sacrificing 
devotion of our soldiers on the Eastern Front, a defensive success of the 
greatest scale has been achieved for German arms. 138 While this was 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 123 

certainly a fair and accurate appraisal, the following passage shows that 
he either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented the fighting 
capability of the Soviet armed forces. The enemy', he wrote, 'has 
suffered the severest losses in men and materiel. In an effort to exploit 
apparent initial successes, he has expended during the winter the bulk of 
his reserves earmarked for later operations.' 

Spelling out the aim of the new offensive, he declared that 'as soon as the 
weather and the state of the terrain provide the necessary prerequisites', 
it was important once again to seize the strategic initiative and, through 
German military superiority, 'force our will upon the enemy'. The 
objective this time was not only to wipe out the remaining Soviet military 
potential, but also to 'deprive them of their most important military- 
economic sources of strength.' 

The general plan involved Army Group Centre holding fast, while an 
effort would be made to 'bring about the fall of Leningrad and link up 
with the Finns north of the city', and, in the region of Army Group South, 
a major campaign would be launched into the Caucasus. Nothing was said 
about Moscow. Clearly it could wait. Because of the damage inflicted 
upon the eastern army in the winter months, these objectives (Leningrad 
and the Caucasus) would 'have to be achieved only one at a time.' Initially, 
therefore, 

all available forces are to be assembled for the main operation in 
the southern sector, with the objective of destroying the enemy 
forward of the Don, in order to secure the oil regions of the Caucasus 
and the passes through the Caucasus [mountain range] itself. 

Before the major offensive into the Caucasus could commence, the 
directive stated, it would be necessary 'to clear the Kerch Peninsula in the 
Crimea and to bring about the fall of Sevastopol.' In preparation for this 
campaign, the Luftwaffe and later the Kriegsmarine would have the task 
of 'energetically hindering enemy supply traffic in the Black Sea and the 
Kerch Straits.' The insistence on these time-consuming preliminary 
operations in the Crimea reveals that Hitler still believed that the Crimea 
would have to be 'neutralized' entirely in order to protect Rumanian 
oilfields permanently from Soviet bombers. This view, it should be noted, 
was not only shared by General-oberst von Manstein, 139 whose battered 
Eleventh Army would have to do the fighting in the Crimea, but also by 
General-oberst Alexander Lohr, whose air fleet (Luftflotte IV) would have 
to support von Manstein's ground assault. 140 . Perhaps more importantly, 
it was also shared by Marshal Antonescu, whose oilfields and refineries 
had been attacked as many as 95 times since 22 June 1941 by Soviet twin- 
engined bombers based around Odessa. 141 These attacks were generally 



124 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

weak and ineffectual, thanks to substantial German air defences around 
the oilfields and refineries (when BARBAROSSA began there were no 
less fewer than 24 heavy and numerous light Flak batteries around Ploesti 
alone 142 ). The presence and quantity of these forces, which included 
strong fighter units, reflects Hitler's deep concern over the safety of his 
main source of oil. 

Although one author recently stated that oil production was 'unaffected' 
by these air attacks, 143 on several occasions they caused significant damage 
and heightened fears for the fields' safety. On 13 July 1941, for example, 
a raid left 17 oil tanks ablaze at Ploesti's Orion refinery. Although the fires 
were extinguished within 24 hours and around 12,000 tons of oil were 
saved, this attack caused considerable damage and losses and claimed the 
lives of seven firemen. In total, 9,000 tons of oil and 17 Kesselwagen were 
destroyed in various raids against the Orion refinery alone. 144 Ploesti's 
Vega refinery was another frequent target and on one occasion, the night 
of 18 July 1941, an attack resulted in the loss of around 2,000 tons of 
much-needed motor fuel. 145 These attacks would have greatly reinforced 
Hitler's belief that the Rumanian oilfields were highly vulnerable to air 
attack and that the Crimea - the only feasible base for Soviet long-range 
bomber fleets after the loss of Ukraine - would have to be 'neutralized' 
entirely in order to protect those oilfields from possible destruction. 

After neutralizing the Crimea, Hitler's War Directive 41 stated, the 
main campaign could begin. Curiously, in the light of the fact that the 
campaign has come to be associated with the name of that city, the 
capture of Stalingrad was actually not a major objective. It was certainly 
considered by Hitler to be far less important than the oilfields. The 
directive stated only that an attempt should be made 'to reach' Stalingrad, 
'or at least to subject this city to the bombardment of our heavy weapons 
to such an extent that it is eliminated as an armament and transportation 
centre in the future.' As the historian Gerhard Weinberg points out, it is 
ironic that 'the place whose name will always be associated with one of the 
great battles of World War II was largely ignored by the Germans before- 
hand and renamed Volgograd by the Soviet Union afterwards.' 146 

Hitler was optimistic about the coming offensive and, although he 
could give away none of his plans, was determined to inspire the German 
people and his Axis partners into supporting another major drive to the 
east. On 26 April 1942, three weeks after issuing the directive for the 
campaign, he confidently announced before the Reichstag that 'a world 
struggle was decided during the winter', and, contrasting at length his 
own persistence and Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow in 1812, 
boasted that 'we have mastered the destiny that broke another man 130 
years ago.' 147 The Wehrmacht, he added, had passed its terrible trial in 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 125 

Russia and was ready to move forward again. This year Stalin's evil 
regime would be destroyed once and for all. 

This widely-transmitted speech to the Reichstag was well received by 
most sections of German society. It also had a positive effect on the 
Hungarians and Rumanians, who were, for reasons of national prestige, 
still enthusiastic about participating in the struggle to destroy Bolshevism. 
The war-weary Italians, whose military successes had been few and 
relatively insigificant, were generally unimpressed. It had 'a depressing 
effect in Italy', noted Ciano, who personally felt its tone was 'not very 
optimistic'. Mussolini, on the other hand, was inspired by the speech, 
privately calling it 'excellent and strong'. 148 

Three days after Hitler gave this speech, he met both Ciano and 
Mussolini at Klessheim Castle in Salzburg. Ciano was struck by how old 
Hitler appeared, and noted in his diary that 'He is strong, determined, 
and talkative; but he is tired. The winter months in Russia have weighed 
heavily upon him. I see for the first time that he has many grey hairs.' 
While the Fuhrer talked privately to Mussolini ('Hitler talks, talks, talks, 
talks - Mussolini suffers'), it was left to Ribbentrop to explain to Ciano 
the nature of the campaign outlined in Hitler's directive of 5 April. 
Ribbentrop, pointing out the great economic gains to be made, stressed 
the campaign's 'politico-military objective' and insisted that 'When 
Russia's sources of oil are exhausted she will be brought to her knees.' 149 
During a top-level military conference held at the Berghof the following 
day, Hitler made the same point to Mussolini. 150 German forces, he said, 
already occupy the Soviets' main agricultural areas. As a result 'the 
Russians in the central regions must have terrible nourishment difficulties, 
a problem exacerbated by the confiscation of tractors for military 
purposes.' The strangulation of the civilian sector of Soviet society', he 
continued, 

must directly influence the military sector. To start with, based on 
existing supplies the Russian must have adequate nourishment to 
survive another five months. But his harvest this year cannot be 
brought in and distributed before October. 

This, he told Mussolini, was the decisive factor: 'If we now succeed in 
cutting him off from his oil, his traffic must grind to a standstill.' 

Conclusion 

The preliminary campaign (to clear the Crimea of Soviet forces) com- 
menced on 8 May and was brought to a successful conclusion on 3 July. 



126 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

Hitler breathed a sigh of relief; the Crimea was entirely in German hands 
and the Rumanian oilfields, his major source of oil, were safe from air 
attack for at least the near future. 

Meanwhile, on 28 June the main campaign to seize the Caucasus 
oilfields had been launched and initially, to Hitler's great delight, made 
startling progress. The Volga river north of Stalingrad was reached by 
soldiers of the Northern Army Group on 23 August, allowing them to 
sever the Soviet's main north-south supply and communication route. 
Stalingrad, not as yet a main objective, seemed certain to fall within a 
month. On 9 August, German troops of the Southern Army Group had 
even overrun Maikop, the closest of the Caucasus oilfields. Although it had 
been badly damaged by retreating Soviets, some wells were reparable. 151 

By late October, Hitler seemed very close to victory. However, his 
Southern Army Group's attempts to push past Pyatigorsk and secure the 
passes through the main Caucausus range to the far richer oilfields in the 
south were repeatedly thwarted. He had men while become obsessed with 
the capture of Stalingrad, and the success of a massive Soviet counter- 
attack there in November placed the encircled German Sixth Army and 
elements of the Fourth Panzer Army in grave danger of destruction. In 
December the Soviet Transcaucasus Front also went over to the offensive 
and throughout January and February the German troops still in the 
Caucasus were forced to conduct a perilous and difficult withdrawal 
through Rostov in order to avoid encirclement. Even Maikop, the only 
oilfield captured by the Germans, had to be abandoned. Except for the 
Seventeenth Army's defensive line on the Taman Peninsula, which was 
successfully stormed by the Soviets in September 1943, there were now no 
Germans in the Caucasus. The Caucasus oilfield had slipped from Hitler's 
grip and would never again be in direct danger. Things were much worse 
for the Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Attempts to supply it from the air failed 
and, at the end of January 1943, the commander of this once mighty army 
ordered his frost-bitten and starving men to lay down their arms. Almost 
140,000 Germans had perished at Stalingrad, and of approximately 
91,000 taken prisoner only 6,000 or so survived captivity. 

This analysis reveals that the disastrous campaign was, from its very 
conception, the result of perceived economic necessity. Its planning was, 
to a far greater degree than that of any other German military undertaking 
of the Second World War, significantly influenced by economic considera- 
tions. The Fuhrer's directive of 5 April 1942 committed the German 
armed forces for the first time to a massive offensive with economic 
objectives taking precedence over strictly military ones. Hitler was well 
aware that his strategy was a departure from traditional military theory, 
but reasoned that, unlike Clausewitz, who wrote his most influential 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 127 

works on military theory in the 1820s, he commanded mechanized armies 
in a war between major industrialized nations. He knew that the 
economic resources (including manpower, raw materials and fuel) of the 
growing list of nations he now faced greatly exceeded Germany's. The 
Reich's economic potential for waging prolonged warfare had never been 
high, but now, after two years of war, it had deteriorated significantly. As 
his economic advisers constantly pointed out, the campaign against the 
Soviet Union had cost Germany dearly in terms of manpower and raw 
materials and had consumed massive amounts of oil. Unless he succeeded 
in both defending his main existing source of oil from Soviet air attack and 
in capturing new and substantial sources he was incapable of waging a 
protracted war of economic attrition. On the other hand, he believed, if 
his campaign succeeded it would not only relieve the terrible shortage of 
oil products currently experienced but also deliver a massive, possibly 
mortal, blow to the Soviet war economy. 

It needs to be said, of course, that the dire predictions of Hitler and his 
economic advisers in 1941 and 1942 about the certain collapse of the 
German war machine if no new sources of oil were obtained proved to 
be exaggerated. The German war effort did not grind to a halt when the 
campaign to capture the Caucasus oilfields failed. Although Germany's 
oil situation remained acute, and became desperate after the Allied air 
offensive against its synthetic fuel plants and the Rumanian oilfields 
began, the Reich continued fighting until May 1945. 

In fact, despite the total failure of the 1942 campaign, events in 1943 
actually led to a slight improvement in the oil situation. First, when Italy 
defected from the Axis in September it ceased to be a drain on Germany's 
near-exhausted reserves. Secondly, when German forces in Italy responded 
to this defection and rapidly disarmed their former allies they captured 
surprisingly large stocks of oil. Thirdly, Germany's synthetic fuel industry, 
not yet targeted by Allied bombers, reached a production peak. 152 
Accordingly, the oil shortages which had bedevilled the Wehrmachfs 
efforts throughout the previous two years appeared far less critical. The 
Luftwaffe was even able to build up its meagre reserves slightly for the 
first time since the beginning of the Russian campaign. 153 

In May 1944, however, the USAAFs strategic bombing force began 
concentrating its efforts against both the German synthetic fuel plants 
and the Rumanian oilfields and refineries. Raids on the latter targets were 
greatly facilitated by the use of bases in southern Italy. Despite high 
aircraft and crew losses, these efforts paid off handsomely for the Allies, 
who learned from 'Ultra' decrypts that many plants suffered production 
decreases or were put out of action altogether. By late summer Germany's 
oil supplies were seriously depleted. In May, by way of illustration, 



128 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

316,000 tons of synthetic fuel were produced in Germany. The following 
month production fell to 107,000 tons, and in September it plummeted 
to a mere 17,000. As a result, the Luftwaffe received only 30,000 tons 
of petrol that month, instead of its normal 180,000 tons. 154 Its training 
programmes suffered terribly, with many pilot-training schools shutting 
down for lack of fuel. The mobility of the mechanized forces was 
also significantly curtailed. For the Ardennes campaign in December, 
Germany's last major offensive action of the war, the armoured formations 
had very meagre fuel reserves (and these were created only by robbing 
fuel from forces not involved). Hitler was gambling on their ability to 
capture American stocks. With the failure of this endeavour and powerful 
Allied armies pressing in from west, east and south it was clear that 
Germany would not survive much longer. 

Thus Germany's ability to wage war did not dissolve with the failure of 
the Caucasus campaign, as the Ftihrer and his economists had previously 
believed. Having said that, it should also be noted that neither Hitler nor 
his military planners could forecast with certainty the future course of the 
war nor, therefore, accurately calculate the future oil consumption of 
Germany's armed forces. Frequent evaluations in 1941 and 1942 by 
the War Economy and Armaments Office, based on careful and detailed 
analyses of past production, import and consumption rates, clearly 
revealed that once oil reserve stocks were exhausted it would no longer be 
possible to offset the significant shortage of oil. Germany's war machine 
would rapidly grind to a halt. These grim conclusions were repeatedly 
presented to Hitler and the High Command in the form of detailed 
reports. Their claims, we saw above, were seemingly corroborated by 
commanders in the field and even senior service chiefs such as Raeder, 
who complained constantly that the mobility or operational capability of 
their forces had deteriorated because of decreases in their oil supplies. 
History has exposed the inaccurancy of the warnings the Nazi leader 
received from his economists, but at that time they seemed both credible 
and compelling. Hitler, aware by December 1941 that he now faced a 
prolonged war against the world's two economic giants the Soviet Union 
and the United States, felt that he had no real option but to embark on 
a campaign which would, if successful, greatly enhance his ability to 
continue waging that war. 

NOTES 

1. United States Air Force Historical Research Agency (hereafter USAFHRA) 506. 
619A: SHAEF, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G2. Subject: Interrogation of Albert 
Speer, Former Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production. 5th Session, 10.30 
to 12.30 hrs, 30 May 1945. 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 129 

2. F. Haider (Generaloberst), Kriegstagebuch: Tagliche Aufzeichnungen des Chefs des 
Generalstabes des Heeres, 1939-1942 Band II: Von dergeplanten Landung in England 
bis zum Beginn des Ostfeldzuges (1.7.1940-21.6.1941) ed. by H.-A, Jacobson (Stutt- 
gart: Kohlhammer, 1965), p.50; Cf. also W. Warlimont, Im Hauptquartier der deutschen 
Wehrmacht, 1939 bis 1945 Band I: September 1939-November 1942 (Ausburg: Weltbild, 
1990. First published by Bernard und Graefe, 1962) , pp. 126-9. 

3. Der Prozefi gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher vor dem Internationalen Militargerichts- 
hof, Niirnberg, 14. Nov. 1945-1. Okt. 7946 (Niirnberg: Internationales Militartribunal 
in Niirnberg, 1947-1949), Vol. VII, p.290. 

4. USAFHRA 142.0372: 'Strategic Value of the Caucasus', (US) Air Forces General 
Information Bulletin, No.3 (12 Aug. 1942), p.14. 

5. USAFHRA 512.607: 'Caucasus Oil', (British) Air Ministry Weekly Intelligence Sum- 
mary [these once 'Secret' reports are hereafter cited as AM WIS] No. 156, Up to 
1200-26 August 1942, p.3 (on microfilm 32770); See also USAFHRA 512.607: 'The 
Grozny Oil District', AMWIS No.159, Up to 1200-18 September 1942, p.24 (on the 
same microfilm). For similar German estimates, see USAFHRA K113. 106-153 Vol. 11: 
Der Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe, Fuhrungsstab Ic/ IV Nr. 3500/41 Geheim! Orientie- 
rungsheft: Union der Sozialistischen Sowjetrepubliken (U.d.S.S.R.), Stand 1.2.1941, 
pp.88-93; USAFHRA K113.106-153 Vol.11: Der Chef des Wehrwirtschaft- undRus- 
tungsamts beim OKW, an den Chef des Generalstabes der Luftwaffe, Herrn General- 
oberst Jeschonnek, Berlin, den 3 1.3. 1942, pp.10, 11. 

6. Cf. National Archives, Washington, DC (hereafter NARS) T321/1 11/763-5: Wasser- 
strafien S.U. (Europ. Teil) - Wolgasystem. Stand: Juni 1942 (File of Lw Fu Stb lei 
See-Genst.5.Abt./II). 

1. USAFHRA 142.0372: 'Strategic Value . . .', p. 14. For the population statistics of Baku 
(809,347 citizens in 1939) and the other major Transcaucasian cities, see USAFHRA 
K113. 106.153: Der Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe, Fuhrungsstab Ic/Iv Nr. 3500/41 
Geheim! Orientierungsheft: Union der Sozialistischen Sowjetrepubliken (U.d.S.S.R.) 
Stand 1.2.1941, pp.9, 10. 

8. USAFHRA 512.607: 'Caucasus Oil', p.3. 

9. USAFHRA 142.0372: 'Strategic Value . . .', p. 15. 

10. E. Ludendorff, My War Memoirs: 1914-1918 (London: Hutchinson, n.d.), Vol.1, 
p.347. 

11. Ibid., Vol.1, p.659. 

12. A useful introduction to this subject is L. Fischer, Oil Imperialism: The International 
Struggle for Petroleum (London: Allen & Unwin, 1926; reprinted 1976), especially 
Ch.l,TheWarforBaku\ 

13. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Over-all Report (European War) Sep- 
tember 30, 1945, p. 39; B.H. Klein, Germany's Economic Preparations for War (Cam- 
bridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1959), p.32. 

14. Over-all Report, p.39. 

15. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effects of Strategic Bombing on the 
German War Economy. Overall Economic Effects Division, October31, 1945, p. 73. 

16. W. Treue, 'Hitlers Denkschrift zum Vierjahresplan, 1936', Vierteljahrshefte fiir 
Zeitgeschichte, Vol.3 (April 1955), pp. 184-210. 

17. For Hitler's views on the need for Lebensraum in the east, cf. Mein KampfZv/ei 
Bande in einem Band. Ungekurzte Ausgabe (Munchen: Zentralverlag der NSDAP., 
Frz. EherNachf., 1943ed.), pp.1, 143-50, 153, 154. 

18. M. Domarus, Hitler: Reden und Proklamationen 1932-1945 (Leonberg: Pamminger, 
1988; first published by SuddeutscherVerlag, Munich, 1965), Vol.11, p.637. 

19. Over-all Report, p.39; USAFHRA 512.607: 'The Fuel Position of the German Air 
Force', AMWIS No. 129, Up to 1200-18th February 1942, p. 20. 

20. R.C. Cooke and R.C. Nesbit, Target: Hitler's Oil: Allied Attacks on German Oil 
Supplies, 1939-1945 (London: Kimber, 1985), p.16. 

21 . Effects of Strategic Bombing, pp.73, 74. 

22. Ibid., Over-all Report, p.39. 



130 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

23. Cf., for example, the projected totals for 1939-44 in Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv ; 
Freiburg, Germany [hereafter cited as BA/MA] RW 19/202: Az 66 b 2134 WStb/W 
Ro III, Vortragsnotiz fiir Generalfeldmarschall Goring uber Zielsetzung und Forde- 
rungen fiir die Weiterfiihrung des Mineralol- Bauprogramms, 31 Januar 1939, in Aus- 
zilgeauKTB, WiRii Amt/Stab (nur Mineralol betreffend) . 

24. Effects of Strategic Bombing, p. 74. 

25. Cooke and Nesbit, p.16; Effects of Strategic Bombing, p.74. 

26. Ibid.,p.73. 

27. Ibid.,p.74. 

28. Ibid.,p.75. 

29. BA/MA RW 19/202: Wi Ru Amt Stab Z/SR, den 16. Februar 1942: 'Die deutsche 
Treibstoffversorgung im Kriege. Abgeschlossen um die Jahreswende 1941/42', in Aus- 
ziige aits KTB, WiRUAmt/Stab (nur Mineralol betreffend) t Beginn 1.5.1940. See also 
W. Deist, M. Messerschmidt, H.-E. Volkman, W. Wette, Germany and the Second 
World War Void: The Build-up of German Aggression (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), 
p.361. 

30. BA/MA RW 19/202: Wi Ru Amt Stab Z/SR, den 16. Februar 1942: 'Die deutsche 
Treibstoffversorgung im Kriege. Abgeschlossen um die Jahreswende 1941/42', in Aus- 
zuge aus KTB, Wi Ru Amt/ Stab (nur Mineralol betreffend), Beginn 1.5. 1940. 

31. N. Rich, Hitler's War Aims: Ideology, the Nazi State, and the Course of Expansion 
(New York/London: Norton, 1992; first published 1973), p. 188. 

32. BA/MA RW 19/202: Wi Ru Amt Stab Z/SR, den 16. Februar 1942: 'Die deutsche 
Treibstoffversorgung im Kriege. Abgeschlossen um die Jahreswende 1941/42', in Aus- 
zixge aus KTB, Wi Ru Amt/Stab (nur Mineralol betreffend), Beginn 1.5.1940. See also 
Effects of Strategic Bombing, p.74. 

33. Rich, pp.189, 190. 

34. Document 134-C: 'OKW/WFSt. Nr. 8/41 gKdos. Chefs. Ausfuhrungen des Fuhrers 
am 20.1.194V , IMT, Vol.XXXIV, p.469. See also Hitler's earlier comments to Ciano 
on the danger to the Ploesti refineries: 'Conversation with the Fuehrer in the Presence 
of the Reich Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop, Salzburg, 18th November 1940\ in 
G. Ciano, Ciano's Diplomatic Papers Ed. M. Muggeridge; trans, by S. Hood (London: 
Odhams,1948),p.408. 

35. CookeandNesbit,p.64. 

36. R. Muller, The German Air War in Russia (Baltimore, MD: Nautical & Aviation 
Publishing, 1992), p.69. 

37. Cf. Von Hardesty, Red Phoenix: the Rise of Soviet Air Power, 1941-1945 Smithsonian 
History of Aviation (Washington, DC and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 
1982), p.217; R.A. Kilmarx, A History of Soviet Air Power (NY: Praeger, 1962), 
p.177. 

38. W ailimont, Im Hauptquartier, Vol.1, p.146. 

39. Over-all Report, p. 39. 

40. C. Tugendhat and A. Hamilton, Oil: the Biggest Business (London: Eyre Methuen, 
1968), p.114; BA/MA RW 19/202: Wi Ru Amt Stab Z/SR, den 16. Februar 1942: 'Die 
deutsche Treibstoffversorgung im Kriege. Abgeschlossen um die Jahreswende 1941/42', 
in Auszuge aus KTB, Wi Ru Amt/Stab (nur Mineralol betreffend), Beginn 1.5.1940. 

41. Over-all Report, p. 40; Effects of Strategic Bombing, p. 76; Tugendhat and Hamilton, 
0*7,p.ll4. 

42. CookeandNesbit,p.l7. 

43. F.W. Deakin, The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler and the Fall of Italian Fascism 
(London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962), pp.164, 180; cf. Haider, Kriegstagebuch, 
Vol.11, p.421 (entry for 20 May 1941). 

44. B. Wegner, The Road to Defeat: the German Campaigns in Russia 1941-43', Journal 
of Strategic Studies, Vol.13, No.l (March 1990), p.110. 

45. Haider, Kriegstagebuch, Vol.11, p.422. 

46. W. Hubatsch (ed.), Hitlers Weisungen fur die Kriegfiihrung 1939-1945: Dokumente 
des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht (Frankfurt am Main: Bernard und Graefe, 1962), 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 131 

pp. 150-3. The code-name Taifun was given to the offensive two weeks later, in an 
order of 19 Sept. 1941. 

47. F. Haider, Kriegstagebuch: Tdgliche Aufzeichnungen des Chefs des Generalstabes 
des Heeres, 1939-1942 Band HI: Der Rufilandfeldzug bis zum Marsch auf Stalingrad 
(22.6.1941-24.9.1942), p.222. 

48. Ibid. 

49. Cf. BA/MA RW 19/199 for the Wi Ru Amt"% monthly situation reports, which detail 
Rumania's supply problem. See especially Wi Ru Amt Stab ZISR Nr. 86/42 gKdos, 
Berlin, den 9. Januar 1942: Kriegswirtschaftlicher Lagebericht Nr. 28, Dezember 1941; 
and Wi Ru Amt Stab Z/SR, Nr. 686/42 gKdos, Berlin, den 13. Marz 1942: Kriegswirt- 
schaf dicker Lagebericht Nr. 30, Februar 1942. Also, for a detailed analysis of the 
German-Rumanian oil situation in 1941, see BA/MA RW 19/178: Deutsche Wehrwirt- 
schaftmission in Rumanien, Ch.d. St. Tagb. Nr. 226/41 gKdos, Bukarest, den 8. 
Dezember 1941: An das OKW/Wi Ru Amt, Berlin, Bericht Nr. 15, uber die Tatigkeit 
der Deutschen Wehrwirtschaftmission in Rumanien vom 20. September 1941 bis 20. 
November 1941 . 

50. BA/MA RW 19/202: Wi Ru Amt Stab ZISR, den 16. Februar 1942: 'Die deutsche 
Treibstoffversorgung in Kriege. Abgeschlossen um die Jahreswende 1941/42', in Aus- 
ziige aus KTB, Wi Ru Amt/ Stab (nur Mineralol betreffend), Beginn 1.5.1940. Cf. also 
the detailed monthly statistical reports sent by the Reichstelle fur Mineralol to Kapitan 
zur See Gabriel, OKW/Wi Ru Amt (in BA/MA RW 19/2695). See the source cited in 
note 56 for GrofSadmiral Raeder's comments about the squabble over payment between 
Rumania and Germany. 

51. Quoted in K. Reinhardt, Die Wende vorf Moskau: Das Scheitern der Strategic Hitlers 
im Winter 1941/2 Beitrage zur Militar- und Kriegsgeschichte, Band 13 (Stuttgart: 
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1972), p.117. 

52. Ibid.,pp.ll7-18. 

53. Haider, Kriegstagebuch, Vol. Ill, p. 38. 

54. Quoted in Reinhardt, p. 118; and H. Boog, et a/., Der Angriff auf die Sowietunion 
(Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 1991. First published as Vol.4 of Das 
Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg by Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 
1983),p.ll31. 

55. Reinhardt, p. 118. 

56. BA/MA RW 19/177; Adjutant Amtchef Wi Ru Amt, Akten-Notiz uber Besprechung 
beiGen. Qu. am30.8.1941. 

57. Ibid. 

58. Haider, Kriegstagebuch, Vol.11, p.421. 

59. Reinhardt, p.H8,n.95. 

60. US AFHRA 512.607: 'The Fuel Position of the German Air Force' , AMW1S No. 129, 
Up to 1200-18th February 1942, p. 19. 

61. BA/MA RW 19/177: WiRuAmtAz. 11 k2209Ro Vs., Nr. 3241/41 gKdos, Berlin, den 
7. Oktober 1941: Stand der Mineralolversorgung im 4. Vierteljahr 1941 ausgehend von 
der Lage am 1.10.1941. 

62. Ibid. 

63. Report of the C.-in-C, Navy, to the Fuehrer at Wolfsschanze in the Afternoon of 
November 13, 1941, published in H.G. Thursfleld (ed.), 'Fuehrer Conferences on 
Naval Affairs, 1942\ Brassey's Naval Annual, 1948 (London: Clowes and New York, 
Macmillan, 1948),pp.235-43. 

64. Ibid. 

65. Report of the C.-in-C, Navy, to the Fuehrer in Berlin on December 12, 1941, in ibid., 
pp.244-6. 

66. BA/MA RW 19/177: Wi Ru Amt/ Chef des Stabes, gKdos, Berlin, den 24. Oktober 
1941, Ergebnis der Besprechung beiGen. Qu. am22. 10.1941. 

67. Warlimont, Im Hauptquartier, Vol.1, p.200. 

68. Cf. Haider's comments and criticisms on 4, 6, 7 and (in particular) 22 Aug. 1941 
(Kriegstagebuch, Vol. Ill, pp.153, 158, 159, 193); and Warlimont's comments, Im 



132 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

Hauptquartier, Vol.1, pp. 198-205. 

69. WFStLNr. 441412/41 , text in Haider, Kriegstagebuch, Vol.III, p. 192. 

70. OKW ChefWFSt., Studien 1 (C5), allg. 15, Bd. 3, in Kriegstagebuch OKW, Vol.1, 
pp. 1063-8. 

71. H. Guderian, Erinnerungen eines Soldaten (Heidelberg: Vowinckel, 1951), p. 182. 

72. N. Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers with an Introduction, Commentary and 
Notes by Edward Crankshaw (London: Deutsch, 1971), p. 169. An excellent intro- 
duction to this topic is S.R. Lieberman's, 'The Evacuation of Industry in the Soviet 
Union during World War II', Soviet Studies, Vol.XXXV (1983), pp.90-102. Cf. also 
M. Harrison, Soviet Planning in Peace and War, 1938-1945 Soviet and East European 
Studies (London: CUP, 1985), pp.63-81. 

73. Quoted in Reinhardt, Die Wende vorMoskau, p. 177. 

74. Document in R. Lehmann, The Leibstandarte: 1 SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte 
Adolf Hitler Vol.11 (Winnipeg: Fedorowicz, 1988),p.l69. 

75. Reinhardt, p.177. 

76. Kriegstagebuch, First Panzer Army, Annex N63/53, quoted in D. Irving, Hitler's War 
(London: Focal Point, 1991); first published in 1976), p. 437. 

77. Quoted in Lehmann, Leibstandarte Vol.11, p. 180. 

78. Reinhardt, p. 178. 

79. Haider, Kriegstagebuch, Vol.III, p.319. 

80. Ibid.,p.32L 

81. Ibid.,p.322. 

82. Ibid.,p.283. 

83. Ibid.,p.295. 

84. Ibid., pp.328, 330. 

85. WeisungNr. 39, inHubatsch (ed.), Hitler's Weisungen, pp. 171-4. 

86. Haider, Kriegstagebuch, Vol.III, p.330. On 16 Dec, Haider also noted that Hitler 
emphatically ordered: 'There can be no talk of withdrawal. The enemy has made 
substantial inroads in only a few places. [The idea of] preparing rear positions is just 
crazy. [Ruckwartige Linien aufzubauen, istPhantasie]. ibid., p. 350. 

87. A.W. Turney, Disaster at Moscow: Von Bock's Campaigns 1941-1942 (Univ. of New 
Mexico, 1970, p. 158). To see how various front-line commanders responded through- 
out the winter months to Hitler's often-reiterated Haltebefehl, cf. Reinhardt, Die 
Wende vorMoskau, pp.l97ff. 

88. USAFHRA Kl 13.309-3 Vol.1: Der Fuhrer und Oberste Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht 
Nr. 442182/41 gKdos. Chefs./WFSt./Abt. L (lop.), F.HQu., den 16.12.1941. 

89. For Guderian's dismissal, see his own account: Erinnerungen eines Soldaten, pp.235-46. 

90. W. Keitel, Keitel: Verbrecher oder Offizier. Erinnerungen, Brief e, Dokumente des 
Chefs OKW edited by W. Gdrlitz (Gottingen/Berlin/Frankfurt: Musterschmidt, 1961), 
pp.290-3. Similarly, cf. Jodl's IMT testimony, in which he admits he 'really marvelled' 
at Hitler's success in stabilizing the eastern front and saving the German Army from an 
'imminent catastrophe' similar to that experienced in 1812 by France (IMT, Vol.XV, 
p. 302). See Ribbentrop's praise, in G. Ciano, Ciano's Diary 1939-1943; ed. by 
M. Muggeridge (London/Toronto: Heinemann, 1947) (entry for 29 April 1942). Many 
prominent historians also agree that Hitler's 'no retreat' decision was the right one. Cf . 
A. Clark, Barbarossa: the Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45 (NY: Quill, 1985, first 
published in 1965), p. 182; Irving, Hitler's War, pp.448-9; Reinhardt, Die Wende vor 
Moskau, p.221; A. Bullock, Hitler: a Study in Tyranny (London: Pelican, 1965, first 
published in 1952), p.664. 

91. 'Weisung fiir die Aufgaben des Ostheeres im Winter 1941-2\ in P.E. Schramm (ed.), 
Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht (Wehrmachtfiihsrungsstab) 
1940-1945 (Frankfurt am Main: Bernard & Graefe, 1961) hereafter Kriegstagebuch 
OKW, Vol.1, pp.1076-82. 

92. H.-A. Jacobsen, 1939-1945: Der Zweite Weltkrieg in Chronik und Dokumenten 
(Darmstadt: Wehr und Wissen, 1961), p.288. 

93. Ziemke and Bauer, Moscow to Stalingrad, p.286. 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 133 

94. For example, see Goebbels's diary entry for 20 March 1942, in R.G. Reuth (ed.), 
Joseph Goebbels - Tagebucher, Band 4: 1940-1942 (Miinchen/Zurich: Serie Piper, 
1992),pp.l767ff. 

95. Domarus, Hitler: Reden und Proklamationen, Vol.11, p. 1826. 

96. Joseph Goebbels -Tagebucher, Band 4, p. 1750 (entry for 3 1 Jan. 1942). 

97. For Hitler's despondency and declining physical health during this period, see 
Reinhardt, Die Wende vor Moskau, pp. 262-4. 

98. Gorlitz (ed.), Keitel: Verbrecher oder Offizier, p.298. 

99. Cf.Warlimont,/m, Hauptquartier, Vol.1, p.241. 

100. Guderian, Erinnerungen, p. 343; On Hitler's departure from 'Clauzewitzian' doctrine, 
see also R. Gehlen, The Service: the Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlentrans. David 
Irving with an Introduction by George Bailey (NY: Popular Library, 1972), pp. 74-7. 

101. Reinhardt, Die Wende vorMoskau, pp.256-7. 

102. Jacobsen, 1939-1945: DerZweite Weltkrieg, p.690. 

103. 'Der Fuhrer und Oberste Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht Nr.: 1/42 gKdos OKW/WFSt/ 
Org.-WLRu Chefs', in Kriegstagebuch OKW, Vol.11, pp.1265-7. 

104. Jacobsen, 1939-1945: Der Zweite Weltkrieg, p.690. 

105 . Figures from Table 37 in Effects of Strategic Bombing, p .75 . 

106. Figures from Table 39, ibid. , p.77. 

107. Figures from Table 37, ibid. , p. 75. 

108. Figures from Tabelle Nr. 3, in A. Hillgruber, Hitler, Konig Carol und Marschall 
Antonescu: die deutsch-rumanischen Beziehungen 1938-1944 Veroffentlichungen des 
Instituts fiir europaische Geschichte, Mainz, Band 5 (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1965), 
p. 249. See also Antonescu's telegram cited below in the following footnote. These 
figures differ only slightly from those compiled in the authoritative The Science of 
Petroleum: Vol.V, Part I: Crude Oils, ed. B.T. Brooks and A.E. Dunstan (London/ 
New York/Toronto: OUP, 1950), pp, 44, 45. 

109. Telegram, Marshal Antonescu to Adolf Hitler, December 5, 1941', published as 
Document No. 549 in Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945 Series D 
VoLXIH: The War Years June 23, 1941-December 11, 1941 (London: HMSO, 1964), 
pp.963-4. 

110. 'Record of the Conversation between the Reich Foreign Minister [Ribbentrop] and 
Rumanian Deputy Minister President Antonescu in Berlin on November 28, 1941', 
published as Doc. No. 513, ibid., p. 873; see also Docs. 505, 519. 

111. 'Record of Ion Antonescu's Conference with Ribbentrop , 12 February 1942' (Document 
USSR-233),IMT,Vol.VII,p.326. 

112. W. Meier-Dornberg, Die Olversorgung der Kriegsmarine 1935 bis 1945 (Freiburg: 
1973),pp.68-71. 

113. BA/MA RM 35 111/30: Bestande Lager Piraus vom 10.7.41-10.5.42, in Anlage zum 
Kriegstagebuch Marine-Gruppenkommando Siid. Cf. also the rapidly plummeting 
amounts of oil which reached German naval bases in the Aegean Sea and Black Sea in 
the last months of 1941 and the first months of 1942 (same BA/MA file). 

1 14. Editor's commentary in 'Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 1942', p. 274. 

115. Ciano's Diary 1939-1943, p,431 . A useful introduction to the Italian Navy's 'paralysing' 
oil shortages can be found in J.J. Sadkovich, The Italian Navy in World War II, Con- 
tributions in Military Studies, No. 149 (Westport, CT/London: Greenwood, 1994), 
esp. pp.39, 78, 79, 240, 286, 287. 

116. Ciano's Diary 1939-1943,pA20(entryfoT6 Jan. 1942). 

117. BA/MA RW 19/177: WiRuAmtAz. 11 k2209Ro Vs., Nr. 3241 141 gKdos, Berlin, den 
7. Oktober 1941: Stand der Mineralolversorgung im 4. Vierteljahr 1941 ausgehend von 
der Lage am 1.10.1 941 ; and figures from Table 39 in Effects of Strategic Bombing, p . 77. 

118. Over-all Report, p.40. 

119. USAFHRA 512.607: 'The Fuel Position of the German Air Force', AMWIS No. 129, 
Up to 1200- 18th February 1942 (on microfilm 32769). 

120. USAFHRA 142.0372: 'Strategic Value ...', p.14; B.T. Brooks, Peace, Plenty and 
Petroleum (Lancaster, PA: Cattell, 1944; Hyperion reprint edition, 1976), p. 84. 



134 THE JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC STUDIES 

121. A. Nazaroff, 'The Soviet Oil Industry', The Russian Review, Vol.1, No.l (Nov. 1941), 
p.89. Nazaroff bases this figure on Soviet 'official data* which, sadly, he does not 
cite. In 1942, German intelligence estimated that the Soviet production total for that 
year would be 33,000,000 tons (USAFHRA K113. 106-153 V. 11: Der Chef des 
Wehrwirtschaft-und Riistungsamts beim OKW an den Chef des Generalstabes der 
Luftwaffe Herrn Generaloberst Jeschonnek, Berlin, den 31.3. 1942, p. 10). In Table IV 
of The Science of Petroleum, Vol. V, Part I: Crude Oils, W.L. Nelson gives a lower, but 
still tremendous, 1940 production total of 31,000,000 tons, surpassed only by the 
United States. On p. 22 of his book The Enigma of Soviet Petroleum: Half-Full or Half 
Empty? (London/Boston/Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1980), M.I. Goldman gives a similar 
figureof 31, 121,000 tonsfor 1940. 

122. Brooks and Dunstan, The Science of Petroleum, p.44. 

123. Hitler's Table Talk, 1941-1944 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1953), p.615 
(entry for5 Aug. 1942). 

124. Cf. Gorlitz (ed.), Keitel: Verbrecher oder Offizier, pp.298, 299; W. Jochmann 
(ed.), Hitler, Monologe im Fuhrerhauptquartier, 1941-1944 (Hamburg: Knaus, 1980), 
pp.328, 329. 

125. After the war, Haider dishonestly claimed that he openly criticized the Caucasus plan. 
See his Hitler als Feldherr (Munich: Dom, 1949), pp.48ff. Adolf Heusinger, Chief of 
Operations in the Army General Staff and, in the post-war period, Inspector-General 
of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO armed forces, makes similar claims in 
his self-serving memoir, Befehlim Widerstreit (Tubingen/Stuttgart: Rainer Wunder- 
lich,1950),p.l76. 

126. BA/MA RM 7/259: Mar. Verb. Offz. zum OKH (Genst. d.H.) B. Nr. 29/42 gKdos. 
Chefs. An das Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine - 1 Abt. Ski. - Berlin. Betr.: 
'Unternehmen Suez', 

127. BA/MA RFW 19/202: Wi Ru Amt Stab Z/SR, den 16. Februar 1942: 'Die deutsche 
Treibstoffversorgung im Kriege. Abgeschlossen um die Jahreswende 1941142*, in Aus- 
ziigeausKTB, WiRUAmt/ Stab (nurMineralolbetref fend), Beginn 1.5. 1940. 

128. OKW/F.H.Qu., den 6. Juni 1942, 'Wehrkrafi der Wehrmacht im Fruhjahr 1942', 
reproduced in Jacobsen, 1939-1945: DerZweite Weltkrieg, p.309ff . 

129. Cf. Ludendorff , My War Memoirs, Vol.11, pp.658-60. 

130. Quoted in B.A. Leach, German Strategy against Russia, 1939-1941 (Oxford: 
Clarendon , 1973) , p , 146. Also see the document cited in note 55 . 

131. An OKM memorandum of 9 May 1941 makes the same point about there being no 
available transport ships because all oil tankers were fully occupied with the transport 
of Rumanian oil up the Danube. Cited in N. Rich, Hitler's War Aims: the Establish- 
ment of the New Order (London: Deutsch, 1974), p.498. 

132. USAFHRA 180.642A Vol.2: The Commander in Chief, Navy, and Chief, Naval Staff, 
to Naval Group South: 1/Skl 1 m 275/42 gKdos. Chefs. 23 February 1942. Subject: 
Operations in the Black Sea (note: this transl. document is from Vol.11 of the unpub- 
lished Fuehrer Directives and other Top-Level Directives of the German Armed Forces, 
compiled by the US AF) . 

133. Cf. Report to the Fuehrer made by the C.-in-C, Navy, on the Afternoon of February, 
13 February 1942, in 'Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 1942*, pp.261-5. 

134. The surplus refinement capacity of the plants at Ploesti was no secret. For example, 
in early 1942, British Air Ministry intelligence staff accurately calculated it to be 
4,000,000 tons per year. While they noted that Germany did not have a tanker fleet 
sufficient to transport the oil from the Caucasus to Rumania, they did warn that it 
could probably also use part of Vichy France's large fleet in the Mediterranean. 
USAFHRA 512.607: 'German Plans for Russian Oil', AMWIS No.134, Up to 1200- 
25 March 1942 (on microfilm 32769). 

135. G.E. Blau, The German Campaign in Russia: Planning and Operations (1940-42) 
Department of the Army, Study No.20-261a (Washington, DC: Department of the 
Army, 1955), pp.109, 130. 

136. Haider, Kriegstagebuch, Vol.III, pp.420, 421. 



HITLER'S QUEST FOR OIL 135 

137. Warlimont, Im Hauptquartier, Vol. I, p.243. 

138. WeisungNr. 41, in Hubatsch (ed.), Hitlers Weisungen, p. 183-8. 

139. Manstein, Verlorene Siege , pp.214, 217. 

140. Letter from Ldhr to von Reichenau, dated 5 Jan. 1942, in NARS T971/18/856-883; 
Erfahrungen und Auswirkung beim Einsdtze der Luftwaffe im Kdmpfe urn Festungen 
(Erlautert an dem Beispeil des Kampfes um Sevastopol im Juni 1942) (OKL, Chef 
Genstb. 8. Abt., Anlage zu Br. B. Nr. 1803/44 Geheim! Wien, am 16. Juni 1944) . 

141. USAFHRAK113.309-3 Vol.3: Deutsche Luftwaffenmission Rumanien I a Nr. 17142 
gKdos. laop3 (LS), Bukarest, den7. 1.1942, ' Einsatz der deutschen Luftstschutzkrdfte 
in Rumanien 194 V ,Boog, etal., Der Angriff auf die Sowjetunion, pp.1052, 1053. 

142. NARS T405/49/4888179: Deutsche Luftwaffenmission Rumanien Qu.Br. Bericht Nr. 
1572 gKdos. HI. Ang., den 18. Juli 1941: 'Belegungsubersichte Rumanien, Stand: 
18.7.194V. 

143. R. Muller, 'Germany's Satellite Air Forces: Coalition Air Warfare on the Eastern 
Front, 1941-1944', paper presented to the Conference of the Society for Military 
History, Kingston, Ontario, May 1993. 

144. BA/MA RL 9/62: Deutsche Luftwaffenmission Rumanien FiXhr. Abt. la Nr. 1841/41, 
gKdos, Bukarest, den 14.12.1941. Betr.: Bericht uber Luftverteidigung Olgebiet 
Rumanien. 

145. USAFHRAK1 13.309-3 Vol.3: Deutsche Luftwaffenmission Rumanien la Nr. 17/42, la 
op 3 (LS), gKdos, Bukarest, den 7.1.1942: 'Einsatz der deutschen Luftstschutzkrdfte in 
Rumanien 194V ,p. 153. 

146. Weinberg,/! World at Arms, p All. 

147. Domarus, Hitler: Reden und Proklamationen, Vol. IV, pp. 1865-77, (esp. pp.1872, 
1873). 

148. Gano's Diary, pA60 (entry for 27 April 1942). 

149. Ibid. ,p.462 (entry for 29 April 1942). 

150. BA/MA RM 7/259: Bericht uber Besprechung am 30.4.1942. Ort: Berghof Dienst- 
tuender Adjutant: Generalmajor Schmundt. gKdos. Gegenstand: Der Fuhrer bespricht 
die militdrische Lage. 

151. USAFHRA K113.106-153: Derlnspekteurdes Luftschutzes Az. 41 Nr. 2099/42 g., den 
21.8.1942, 'Schaden auf den Olfeldern von Maikop und Krasnodar*, gez. Knipfer. 
Although most wells at Maikop were permanently destroyed when concrete was poured 
down the bores, two were *capable of further use* and another, after the fires were 
extinguished, also looked hopeful. 

152. W. Murray, Strategy for Defeat: the Luftwaffe, 1933-1945 (Air University, Maxwell 
AFB: Airpower Research Institute, 1983), pp.272-3. 

153. M. Cooper, The German Air Force, 1933-1945: an Anatomy of Failure (London: 
Jane's, 1981), p.349. 

154. K. Bartz, Swastika in the Air: the Struggle and Defeat of the German Air Force, 
1939-1945 (London: Kimber, 1956), p.184.